India contributes significantly to our YouTube channel’s growth: Jim Egan, BBC Global News

The CEO of BBC Global News talks about the rise in viewership during Pulwama terror attack and subsequent events, general elections coverage plan, fake news and more

e4m by Moumita Bhattacharjee
Updated: Mar 25, 2019 8:37 AM

The Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent events, including the air strike and return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan’s custody, garnered heavy viewership for Hindi news channels. BBC Global News too saw a rise in English audience during this time, particularly on their YouTube page.

We spoke to Jim Egan, CEO, BBC Global News, to understand what this rise in viewership suggests about consumer behaviour, how are they looking to cover General Elections in India and much more. 

When informed that Hindi news channels in India saw a great surge in viewership during the Pulwama attack, subsequent air strike and Abhinandan's return, Egan asserts how that was the best week for them as well.

"The events in the last couple of weeks have been truly big in all our services, including English. Our English audience, particularly on YouTube, went up significantly in India. We had our best week ever. In India, there is a lot of buzz about what BBC is doing online. We have more FB followers of BBC World News in India than in any other country around the world. Our YouTube channel has 4mn subscribers and most of that growth has been in India," he reveals. 

Talking about the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, Egan says BBC’s coverage will be completely free of bias.

Listing out the reasons why BBC can guarantee a bias-free coverage, he says, "Being free of bias has been intrinsic to BBC. We have been pursuing this ever since the organisation was founded. One of the reasons for being free of bias is that BBC is totally independent of any commercial influence. There is no mystery about our ownership structure or how we are governed. We go through the details not only for governance but for editorial purposes as well. We try to be transparent about where we come from and what we are seeking."

Talking about what enables BBC to do better journalism in India, Egan says, "It is because we have expanded our language portfolio in India. We have eight regional languages, plus English. We have nearly 300 people around India with a big bureau in Delhi."

According to Egan, the move to incorporate regional languages in the portfolio is an attempt to build its audience base.

"Fundamentally, it is about seeking to build new audiences in those regions where people don't widely speak English or Hindi. We have seen an opportunity with digital media, in particular," Egan explains.

Fake news is one of the big menaces that the world is facing presently. Egan reveals how BBC Global News conducted workshops, hackathons and interactions with the youth on how to spot fake news and avoid sharing them.

"Life is definitely difficult because the dividing line between a political message and straight forward news coverage is blurring quite dramatically. I don't know how it works in India, but in the UK, there are very strict rules on what we call party political broadcasts. Each party is given certain minutes of airtime and the political message happens within those minutes. But in the age of social media, this has completely been broken down. In the UK, around the referendum on whether or not the UK should remain a member of the EU, there was a criminal investigation into the fundings of certain social media messages that went around targeting groups. It's a major issue, particularly with WhatsApp, because of the closed nature of the app. These are tricky issues." 

Although he believes that it is the obligation of the news organisations to stay away from fake news, it isn't anybody's job to be fact-checking.

"Our focus is not to stop fake news or call out fake news. We don't consider it to be our or anybody else's job to be fact-checking. Our folks are more on real news and it lives up to the finest standards of journalism. Having said that, we do think it is the obligation of the serious news organisations to do something concrete and help people deal with news and the information that we get these days via social media," says Egan.

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