Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 46 Number 24, December 10, 2016 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Scramble for Africa

The BBC World Service, Soft Power and Foreign Intervention in Africa

Stop Foreign Intervention in Africa, November 22, 2016

It has recently been reported that the British government will step up its intervention in Africa through the expansion of the BBC World Service in the continent. The BBC has this week announced the largest expansion of its World Service since the 1940s with plans to broadcast in eleven new languages worldwide. Six of those languages - Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya, Yoruba, Igbo and Pidgin are mainly spoken within the African continent and it is evident that there is a particular focus on three countries, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Nigeria. In addition, the BBC World Service is planning to strengthen its broadcasting in Russian, in India and throughout the Korean peninsular, where programmes will be especially aimed at the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (North Korea). In regard to Africa, the BBC is also planning "enhanced television services" including some thirty new programmes for sub-Saharan Africa. The World Service already broadcasts programmes for African audiences in Arabic, Hausa, Somali, Swahili, French and English. It has also been announced that the BBC World Service is taking special measures to make its programmes more appealing to women and youth.

The BBC World Service along with the British Council is an example of what is referred to as "soft power" or the wielding of influence in the world by non-coercive means. Britain's governments pride themselves on the fact that Britain is considered the leading wielder of soft power in the world. Although the Director of the BBC World Service was at pains to deny that it aims to "support British foreign policy objectives" she did admit that the World Service was an expression of "western values," and it is widely accepted that BBC broadcasts to North Korea are planned to openly oppose the government of that country. The expansion of the BBC World Service in Africa and Asia has been financed by increased government funding of £289m and has been viewed as a response by the government to the influence of other major state-financed broadcasters such as Russia's RT, China's CCTV and Qatar's Al Jazeera.

The planned expansion of the BBC World Service emerges from the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence Review 2015 which was presented to parliament by the then Prime Minister last November. In other words, the BBC World Service is part of the government's "security strategy" along with the armed forces, police and intelligence agencies. As David Cameron explained alongside strengthening this hard or coercive power, the government "will further enhance our position as the world's leading soft power promoting our values and interests globally, with our world-class Diplomatic Service, commitment to overseas development, and institutions such as the BBC World Service and the British Council." In this regard Cameron explained that the BBC currently reaches 308 million people worldwide, and that its goal is to reach 500 million people by 2022. Since the BBC World Service allows this global reach into areas where the British government would not otherwise exercise influence the government's aim was to "invest £85 million each year by 2017/18 in the BBC's digital, TV and radio services around the world" to further enhance this global reach.

Until 2014 the BBC World Service, which is the world's leading international broadcaster, was directly funded by the government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and was referred to as "a public corporation of the FCO." The change in funding relationship appears to have occurred in order to counter claims that the BBC World Service was the creature of the British government and that its broadcasts could simply be considered propaganda and also to remove the BBC World Service from any parliamentary scrutiny. Within parliament there was some concern expressed by the Foreign Affairs Committee that the apparent transfer of the funding for the World Service entirely to the BBC would be to its detriment but the announcement last year of increased government finance appears to be part of an attempt to continue the direct government funding of the past while maintaining the fiction of the BBC World Service's alleged independence. In fact, the Foreign Secretary still maintains political responsibility for the World Service.

The exact nature of the government's future intervention in Africa through the BBC World Service is not yet known but what is clear is that foreign intervention in Africa manifests itself in many ways. The promotion of so-called "British values" or "western values" in Africa is evidently seen as a vital part of the Britain's political, military and economic intervention in the continent and takes place within the context of its contention with the other big powers, especially Russia and China.


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