From Transmission to Participation: A Case Study of Democratic Debate at the BBC African Services

Andersson, Matilda (2019). From Transmission to Participation: A Case Study of Democratic Debate at the BBC African Services. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is about the blurring boundaries between audiences and producers as a result of new social media technology and new approaches to journalism in international broadcasting to Africa, commonly referred to as participatory journalism. Audience participation, it has been suggested, can foster stronger democracy through engaging citizens in democratic debate or in the BBC World Service words, ‘a global conversation’. Informed by deliberative democracy and dialogue theory, I use dialogic deliberation as a critical evaluative framework to understand the relationship between participatory journalism and democratic debate. This research goes beyond existing studies about participatory journalism by focusing on the relationship between a British broadcaster and social media audiences in Africa, thus contributing to a new understanding of media power and transnational deliberation between the Global North and the Global South.

The work draws on ethnographic data collected through participant observation at the BBC African services in London and on social media through three mediated moments a) a crowd sourced Nigerian Election map b) the launch of a new audience led programme and c) Facebook discussions about football. Through unique access to both the newsroom, the BBC’s own web analytics systems, and by using both qualitative and quantitative methods, I demonstrate how it is changing journalistic and audience practices, and not social media technology by itself that is contributing to advancing international democratic debate. I also found that in order to allow for a more inclusive and accessible democratic debate, journalists need to give up their gatekeeping culture and use a more dialogic approach to participation including; inclusion and equality that allow personal storytelling, reciprocity and respect in debates, self-reflection of their own values and mutual exploration of news topics together with participating audiences.

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