Tuning In: Diasporic Contact Zones at BBC World Service
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Tuning In is a CRESC affiliated AHRC-funded project analysing diasporic contact zones at the BBC World Service. Since 1932, the World Service has provided a mediated home from home for the worldwide British diaspora in English. Audiences for its 31 foreign language services also include diverse diaspora populations. In addition, as an institution the World Service has long been a contact zone for diasporic (including exilic and refugee) staff reflecting the intellectual, cultural and political sensitivities and fluidity of the audiences they serve.
Little research has been conducted about how and why certain diaspora groups connect with their home countries via the BBC World Service (BBCWS). With an overall audience of 180 million across its radio, TV and online services, many praise the objectivity of BBCWS and increasing use is made of the opportunities for public debate offered by the international and transnational 'conversations' it facilitates. In many regions it is the single most trusted information source, and at times of political crisis or ecological disaster, it has often been a lifeline. Its authoritative reach across national and diasporic boundaries may seem paradoxical, given that is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (until 2014/15) and has a remit to build Britain's reputation and influence abroad. Nevertheless, despite its international profile, astonishingly little research exists on the historical and contemporary work of cultural brokerage and diplomacy performed by BBCWS.
Tuning In plugs this gap by bringing together a community of inter-disciplinary researchers and specialists in a dynamic evaluation of the BBC World Service. It delivers an analysis of the institution from its origins in 1932 right up to the present day and examines the critical role played by BBCWS in mediating the shifting cultural, technological and geopolitical challenges to diaspora sensibilities, identities and discourses. From the prewar Empire Service on shortwave to the tri-media World Service of today, Tuning In documents how the BBC has, over eighty years, been a pivotal contact zone for diaspora engagement.
In the course of research, a number of vantage points have been used to illuminate the experience and influence of diasporas on the professional sensibilities, working practices and broadcast output of the BBC World Service:
- Politics of Translation – how translation skills are used to negotiate, attune and calibrate news output for specific linguistic, cultural and political contexts
- Diasporic Nationhood – how BBC Persian Services mediate relations between Iran and Britain and deploy diasporic broadcasters for public diplomacy benefits
- Religious Transnationalism – how religious issues are framed and debated on the interactive mediascapes in diverse languages
- Sports across Diasporas – how sporting events and celebrities create points of transnational identification across the world
- Migrating Music – how BBCWS music programmes have forged zones of cosmopolitan contact albeit limited by global power relations
- Drama for Development – how WS Trust creates popular dramas with development goals across the world and uses audience research as a means of intercultural dialogue.