Combating Fake News Is A Key Priority: Director, BBC World Service Group
"We are able to provide a balanced, un-biased account of world events and politics because we are independently funded, and not run by any government," says Jamie Angus, Director of the BBC World Service Group
The BBC World Service Group operates around the world in 42 languages, on radio, TV and digital. It is comprised of BBC Global News Ltd, which owns BBC World News and BBC.com, and the BBC World Service.
BBC World News and BBC.com, the BBC’s commercially funded international 24-hour English news platforms, are owned and operated by BBC Global News Ltd. BBC World News television is available in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, and over 450 million households and 3 million hotel rooms. The channel’s content is also available on 178 cruise ships, 53 airlines, including 13 distributing the channel live inflight, and 23 mobile phone networks.
Exchange4Media interacted with Jamie Angus, Director of the BBC World Service Group. Here are the excerpts:
As Director of the World Service Group what are the biggest responsibilities to be fulfilled and what major challenges do you face?
The World Service is going through a period of expansion, adding services in 11 new languages, taking the total to 41. We already enjoy the trust of our audiences, but competition is fierce and rightly so – in the digital world, audiences have almost unlimited choice for their news, so the BBC has to continue to win new audiences by being the most creative, the most distinctive and of the highest quality.
The BBC recently launched its digital platforms in four new Indian languages. What have you learnt about Indian audience, in terms of how they consume news, and what interests them the most?
The response so far to the new Indian language platforms has been very positive. We are trying to establish ourselves in the language market, and what we really want to do is build loyalty; we want the audience to return to BBC’s digital content several times a week and not just once or twice. As well as news that updates audiences on big breaking stories, we also know that they value content that explains the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’; pieces that explain the context and background to events in a sometimes baffling world are really popular, and we want to have the best craft skills in using graphics, video, and data to bring these stories to life.
How has expansion in India worked out for the BBC, and what are your future business plans?
Our future in India is in partnership with other media companies and broadcasters. We will always see big audiences come directly to the BBC World News channel, the English website, and to our radio services. But elsewhere we’ll build loyalty with new audiences by working with local partners. India has such a vibrant and exciting media market that we’ll always find good trusted partners to work with.
Do you think for digital platforms it is time to go global or become more local?
For BBC Global News Ltd, independent and quality coverage of international news is a priority across all our platforms, and we will generally cover stories where local and national media are not covering them in much detail. If we’re talking about digital news platforms, then whether your focus is global or local, what’s most important is that your journalism is relevant to your audience, well-researched, and based on facts.
How do you think penetration of internet has affected the way news is consumed?
I think that the Internet has particularly affected how some younger news users consume news. They sometimes find it hard to discriminate between one sort of news and another because the way news pieces appear on social media feeds can make it hard to see who originally created it – and there can be a sense that ‘all news is a bit biased’. The nature of digital aggregation on Internet platforms is that news is often not clearly labelled, so you will see a BBC article in an aggregator that doesn’t carry a particularly clear BBC brand on it, and it is therefore not that easy to distinguish from a low-quality operator that happens to have got into the aggregator. For the BBC, this means we have to do better deals with digital distributors, we have to make our news brand more visible.
Where does the BBC stand in the debate of digital versus television?
For the BBC, both digital and television are very important platforms. While it’s clear that we are moving as a world towards what will at some stage be a wholly digital future, we by no means see this as the ‘death of TV’, as some commentators are saying. In the international TV news space we know that audiences are mixing and matching their use of TV and digital. Whilst mobile devices have unbeatable portability, and in some places we see audiences shifting to breaking news first on digital devices, they also use TV channels to fact-check what they’ve seen on social media. If we take a look at the international audience figures for the BBC in the last measured year we can see that TV is growing and it’s our single biggest platform. It’s highly visible and vital for our reputation. BBC World News alone is now reaching almost 100 million people around the world each week, and its audience has risen by 12% in a year. If there was ever a sense that the era of TV news channels was over, our audience figures show otherwise.
Do you think news will continue to be consumed mostly via social media? Will news organizations always be dependent on social media platforms?
The way consumers are accessing news is different to how they did ten years ago, but social media is not the only place audiences are getting their news. We see more news is being broken on social media, but for trustworthy, independent news, consumers want to turn to reliable sources. Whereas in the past the emphasis in news was on being the first to break a story, now for international news providers like BBC News the focus in on being the first to report the facts as they are – to be the first to be right.
Digital has encouraged arm-chair journalism (rewriting/rehashing), how do you think the quality of journalism globally has transformed?
Digital publishing has changed the industry forever. The barriers to entry are now very low, and the algorithm model means people can grow into consuming news without understanding the value of human checks and curation. While this has made it easier for under-researched journalism, or simply fake news, to make it to the top of people’s newsfeeds, for the BBC good independent journalism is just that across all our platforms – you won’t find any ‘arm-chair journalism’ on BBC.com. So we have got to reach out through reputable social media channels to these audiences and draw them in to the BBC brands and values in the digital space.
Is there anything that can be done to stop fake news from being generated?
Combating fake news is a key priority for the BBC in 2018. Fake news has existed for centuries, but it is only with the rise of news in the digital world that it has been able to reach so many people and bring about a general distrust of facts, whoever is reporting them. So I would say that the task is not so much to stop fake news being generated at source, but to restore people’s trust in proven facts. At the BBC we have taken steps towards doing this with introducing initiatives such as Reality Check, and by making ‘slow news’ more of a focus - this means more in-depth analysis of topics - with data, investigations, analysis and expertise – to explain the world we’re living in and provide context around the issues impacting people today. Already two thirds of people who consume BBC News say it helps them understand a story better. We’ll be the first people to call out particular egregious fake news stories, show how they’ve been produced and show new trends in fake news and disinformation. We are about seeing the stories, spotting the patterns, and helping you understand your world.
What lessons learnt while covering the US elections will the BBC use during the upcoming general elections in India, considering the use of social media in spreading fake news?
We are able to provide a balanced, un-biased account of world events and politics because we are independently funded, and not run by any government. This was true during the US election and will also be true over the course of the upcoming Indian general elections. As I’ve said, whilst the BBC cannot stop fake news being spread, it can offer a robust, reliable news service which prioritises getting the facts of a story right. Given our recent expansion in India, we are best placed to give trusted analysis of the key election issues and spot false stories where they arise. I believe that in the long run audiences will understand that the proliferation of fake news delivers instability, lack of security, and inflammatory and intolerant behaviour online. This is not a beneficial climate for people to live in, and so they will seek out trustworthy news – and that’s where the BBC will always deliver.
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