the BBC & Africa

A revealing report about the BBC and its policy on reporting Africa. If you prefer French, the original is here, otherwise read this translation, below, which I have copied as printed and sent to me (merci M). It speaks volumes, especially the material about salaries and health insurance, which is something I banged on and on about for ages (and still failed to achieve anything for the Africa service’s demeaned & ignored stringers) until I almost did my poor head an injury. What really gets me about all this is the way the BBC goes on and on and on about democracy and human rights and corruption in Africa the whole bloody time (Evan Davies has taken up the ‘corrupt Africans’ cause in the Today programme on a weekly basis: has he been hanging out with Uncles Bob & Bono?), meanwhile in its own back garden . . . (Take a look at this to get a small insight into how one BBC reporter was dealt with by his local regime, and then ponder the fact that the BBC had to be forced to offer this man any compensation, happy as they were to forget him once he’d left the country where he almost lost his life reporting for, yes, the BBC. Needless to say, he doesn’t work for Auntie any more: after all, whose aunt could be more cruel? Don’t say Victoria Climbie’s.)

Bloody hypocrites.

Anyway, before I smash that skull against the wall once more, here’s the piece:

‘BBC French for Africa Relocates amid racist accusations’

With some 9.6 million listeners in French-Speaking Africa, the British radio is establishing half of its editorial desk in Senegal in order to be closer to its listeners and to save more than 20,000 euros a year with reporters costing less.

Since 18 June 1940, the French programmes of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have been a reference. Besides, BBC does not fail to recall it in its Internet site: “During the Second World War, the French, led by General de Gaulle, refused defeat in spite of the occupation of their country by the enemy. From London, they continued the fight with the support of some African colonies of France. After the conflict, BBC programmes continued in Europe and in the African continent.” But times change; and the radio station which carries 9.6 million listeners per week in French-Speaking Africa is on the point of partially relocating to Senegal. The future offices will be situated in Dakar on the President Habib-Bourguiba Boulevard.

The declared objective of the moving is to save money! The document given to London reporters is quite clear: “The relocation will allow for savings demanded by all the departments of the BBC in a difficult financial context.” Endowed with 1.6 million pounds (1.8 million euros) a year, totally funded by public treasury allocated by the Foreign Office, the management of the African Service hopes to save 200,000 pounds a year. The cost of moving (installation, equipment, etc) is estimated at 800,000 pounds.

Why Dakar, whereas BBC is mostly listened to in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Conakry, and in Cote d’Ivoire? “That was a difficult choice, confided Razvan Scortea, head of service, but many regional and international organizations are established there. Senegal is a stable country, and Dakar has a good transportation network and excellent connections with the world.” More prosaically, this reorganization is going to bring about the closing down of 15 positions in London (out of 27) and the opening of 18 positions in Dakar in the months to come. The recruitment is expected to begin in September and the team should begin working at the beginning of 2010. Of course, concerning the London positions, BBC refuses to talk of sudden dismissal; and yet that is exactly what is happening. The 15 positions abolished in the British capital will not be “replaced” by the 18 created in Dakar. A reporter in London who does not want to be named explains: “The equation is simple; a producer (reporter beginner) earns about 2,200 pounds a month in London. In Dakar, the salary will be 1, 400 pounds, for now, without guarantee of medical insurance coverage.” If London reporters want to follow the relocation, they have to go back to the selection process and accept, at best, a cut in salary of 800 pounds.

Moreover, the present team was placed before a fait accompli. Although Razvan Scortea claims “being in negotiation with the employees and the labour union since May 2009”, it is quite another story with the reporters. On his arrival at the head of the service nearly a year ago, Scortea has not met his team one by one -and since the announcement of the relocation, discussions concerning the 15 departures are made on case-by-case basis, without any real consultation. To justify its decision, BBC management advances the following argument: BBC wants to be closer geographically to its listeners to increase the number of listeners. “We think that getting a solid presence in the region will allow us better respond to the needs and improve our service,” Scortea maintains. The establishment a greater part of the editorial desk in Dakar should be accompanied by an expansion of programmes by four to five hours a day. Cited as example are BBC Hausa and BBC Swahili, which, after undergoing similar changes, had their listeners increase by 2.7 million and 5 million respectively between May 2004 and December 2008. These figures are contested by some people -Scortea himself admits that measuring of listeners should be subject of caution -and that are not mechanically comparable to the French-Speaking zone, which covers a greater number of countries.

In this context, the atmosphere within the BBC is far from being too good. “The working environment is rotten. Everybody is afraid for his job; this has revived tensions in an already difficult service that is understaffed for many years. Some accusations of racism between black and white reporters have become exacerbated….”, confided a reporter.

Razvan Scortea’s career path also explains the strong worries of the editorial desk: unfamiliar with African issues, he was appointed after successfully carried out the relocation -followed by the closing down -of the Romanian service of the BBC. “Let us personalize the issue too much. Like the other 23 European services of the BBC (including 9 within the last three years), the Romanian Service was closed down because of the change in politics that occurred in the region. Europe is not in the same position as Africa, where BBC has closed down only one service, Afrikaans, 52 years ago! The idea that we would closed down BBC Africa does not make sense,” he defends himself.

That is to be seen. The reporters know that in a context of crisis, neither Africa nor French is a priority. The World Service of the BBC today seems to want to turn towards the Arab and Muslim world, as testified to by the costly launching of BBC Arabic, whose aim is to compete with Al-Jazeera, a strategic -and political -decision which falls on the Foreign Office to make.

Source: Paris Jeune Afrique in French 0000 GMT 20 Sep 2009 page No. pp 98-99

Article by Nicolas Michel: “Medias – BBC Africa Relocates to Dakar”