The BBC World Service: diasporic broadcaster
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CRESC’s collaborative research on the BBC World Service since 2007 has created a comprehensive body of knowledge about the BBC's international dimensions, and is currently informing BBC policy and journalism on diasporas, diplomacy, and the management of institutional change and diversity. It is also changing debates on audience research and the importance of social media for democratic communication. Our discovery that over 50% of World Service online users are not Foreign and Commonwealth Office target markets but linguistically defined global diasporas raises profound questions about the role of the World Service.
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The BBC World Service: a diasporic broadcaster
Our World Service research reflects a long standing interest in diaspora, media and culture. Supported by a large AHRC grant between 2007 and 2010, and a series of further spinoff projects, Marie Gillespie is leading an interdisciplinary and multi-lingual team which is collaborating closely with international academic partners and BBC broadcasters, journalists, poets, musicians, policy-makers, diplomats, and audience and market researchers.
This project means that we know much more about the growing significance of global diasporas and the cultural political power of transnational communications networks. For instance, it is now clear that diasporas are important agents and mediators of political conflict and change. This is a vital finding for the BBC World Service. We have discovered that this is not simply an international broadcaster. It is also an online diasporic broadcaster. In most of the language services over 50% of the users of online services are not the target markets set by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) but linguistically defined global diasporas.
What does this mean for the BBC?
As an international broadcaster, the World Service is also one of the FCO’s most important public diplomacy partners. But how does diasporic broadcasting fit in with the FCO's remit? And how does it relate to the future of the World Service? These are the kinds of questions that have come into focus as a result of the CRESC research. Our object has been to explore these questions in a sustained and continuing dialogue with our collaborators both within and beyond the BBC.
For instance, our research report Managing Diversity was circulated to and discussed by senior management at the World Service, and a further report on media use in the Pakistani diaspora was the focus of 20 seminars across the BBC. We have introduced new methods including witness seminars, which have explored the cosmopolitan creativity of the World Service and examined the architectural, cultural and political significance of its 70 year residence at Bush House. These witness seminars have led to the appointment of a World Service Writer in Residence, and to a book of Bush House Anecdotes that is to be presented to every member of staff. Our Generation 2012 project continues to offer citizen journalism training to a group of 30 young Londoners living in the Olympic boroughs. Their interviews and reports have been a feature on the World Servce daily flagship magazine programme 'Outlook' which has an audience of 60 million around the world. We have also presented evidence on the future of the World Service to the House of Commons and House of Lords Select Committees on Communications. And as a final example of our collaborative work, our related Migrating Music project undertaken with the BBC and musicians has been further supported by the AHRC.
Overall our World Service research has produced a new, publicly accessible body of knowledge about a highly complex international and cultural organisation about which there was little prior public knowledge and limited scholarly research. Our work has fed into public and policy debates about the future of the World Service at a time of devastating financial cuts. Further technological and geopolitical changes will transform its rationale, working practices and its relationship to the FCO and the domestic BBC. Finally, we have developed sustained ways of working productively with our collaborators within and beyond the World Service in a manner that is both helping to shape broadcasting and to strengthen our academic understanding of diaspora.
For further details please visit our Tuning In website.