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Facelift for Igbo, Yoruba as they join BBC’s language broadcast spectrum

Peter Okwoche

As part of its continuing investment and enriching the World Service programming, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) yesterday launched its Yoruba and Igbo services. The idea is to change the narratives of the outsider and let the African story be told by Africans. BBC Hausa service has blazed the trail as the first African language service begun by the BBC as far back as March 1957. These two additional services would complement the Hausa service and enhance BBC’s reach.

Just last week, The Guardian visited BBC’s office in Ikoyi, Lagos, and spoke with its Nigerian Editorial Lead for Igbo and Yoruba, Mr. Peter Okwoche. He expressed optimism about the project and said the success of BBC Hausa prompted the launch of the other two major Nigerian languages.

“BBC Hausa is definitely one of most successful language services of BBC,” he said, “with tens of millions of audience. This is specifically why we decided to launch the Yoruba and Igbo to see if we can replicate that success. And there is nothing to say that we cannot.”

While the Igbo service is mainly for audiences in eastern and southeastern Nigeria, as well as the large Igbo-speaking diaspora, the Yoruba service targets southwest Nigeria, Benin Republic and Togo, as well as other parts of the diaspora.

However, it is worthy to note that BBC Hausa gained much popularity in the north, especially among the illiterate segment of the society, which has the culture of always hooking up to their transistor radio sets, whereas this culture is not so strong among the Yoruba and the Igbo segments of society. Okwoche, however, does not see this as an impediment.

According to him, “We are moving into digital age now. We are online for now because we found out that must people now access news through their mobile phones. We also believe we can spread through word of mouth and testimony. Both services have social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram.”

On how this project could further add to Nigeria’s challenge of nation-building, he said, “In fact, for many years a lot of people complained that there was no BBC Igbo and Yoruba in Nigeria. Now we are offering them the same platform as Hausa to tell their story. I think more kudos should be given to the BBC and these young journalists we have employed, who have done such amazing work. Their ideas, creativity and enthusiasm are great to see. I’m positive this is going to be a huge success. We are engaging with more diverse audience, which is great for the country.”

The teams, according to him, would produce an episode of BBC Minute that keeps people in touch with the world in 60 seconds. He said the audience would never be bored as the editorial agenda will reflect not only balanced, impartial news, but also a rich mix of trending topics on sports, entertainment, business, health, education and women.

Okwoche further stated that there would be original content through its network of reporters on a variety of stories and issues that matter to local people and which resonate across the region. Also, digital content created daily for the website and social media platforms would cover a broad agenda with a strong focus on audience interactivity, he said, adding this was in line with BBC News editorial strategy of not only being news providers but also providing enriching analysis, explainers and features.

Okwoche, who joined BBC World Service in 2004, said further, “Both services will concentrate on original journalism from their target regions but will also feature stories from Africa and the main global stories. BBC Igbo and Yoruba will provide a platform for debate on the main issues of interest to audiences and give voices to a wide spectrum of people. There will also be a strong focus on women.

“We will try to draw the younger people in because they are the ones to preserve the languages. We are talking their culture – food, entertainment. And if a foreign news organization sees a story on BBC Yoruba, for instance, and translates it and puts it on their platform, people are still basically reading our story.”

It could be argued that in these days of digital revolution, many people do not necessarily search the web for local language materials. However, Okwoche remains optimistic, citing the instance of how successful the BBC Hausa has been, “don’t forget there are indigenous stations that broadcast in local languages all across Nigeria and they are all doing well. Though Igbo language was rated by United Nations as one of the dying languages, but the Igbo people do not want that to happen. Here, we are giving them the opportunity to relate in their language.

“When the kids see BBC broadcasting in Igbo, it will make the language cool for them again, and they can go there and read news about politics, entertainment, business and so on.”

To enhance vernacular search on the BBC Igbo and Yoruba, he said, “we are just going to use popular words that Nigerians would use. For instance, at the world cup, when people search for Super Eagles, the results will come out not only in English but also in Yoruba and Igbo.

We did a lot of research before we agreed to this idea of launching Igbo and Yoruba and we found out that there is a hunger for it. A lot of time, people seems disinterested in something because its not available to them; we strongly believe that people will come in and read because we are telling their stories in their language, and there is nothing more original than that.”

Also speaking, Head of West Africa, Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye said, “Delivering content and engaging with the Igbo and Yoruba audiences in their mother tongues is authentic, exciting and refreshing. The BBC is passionate about original journalism that adds value and this is what we want to achieve with these services. These platforms will deliver independent, objective and original news to meet the needs of our audiences in Nigeria and West Africa.”

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Peter Okwoche
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