Sunday, 6 January 2013

Interview with Keith Somerville

Keith Somerville, 2010

Keith Somerville is an expert of media in Africa and he accepted this interview.

1) When and where were you born? Where did you study?
 I was born in Chiswick, London, in January 1957; I studied at St Clement Danes Grammar School, the University of Southampton and then carried out research in International Politics at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. Later, I passed a postgraduate teaching certificate at Brunel University.
2) What is your first memory of a radio?
My first clear memory is the start of BBC Radio One when I was ten.  Pop music all day long. I now cannot work without music on in the background.

Keith Somerville in Zambia interviewing Kaunda on 1991

3) How many years did you work for BBC?
28 years - I joined the BBC in March 1980 and worked for 8 years monitoring foreign radio stations (from the UK and then from southern Africa) and then moved to the BBC World Service as a radio producer and then moved on to producing and presenting documentaries and then editing programmes.  I also had spells on the Africa desk at BBC online news and finally worked for the BBC College of Journalism. I now teach journalism and humanitarian communications at the University of Kent and run my own website on Africa: Africa - News and Analysis.

4) How did you get the idea of writing your book about radio propaganda? and how long time did you need to write it?
It developed over a long time.  I was running a live programme on air at the BBC when news came though that the President of Rwanda had been killed on 6 April 1994 and then followed the course of the genocide and use of radio. This added to my awareness from monitoring radio of its use for propaganda.  When I started in academia it was soon after the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008 and it, too, involved the use of radio to spread hatred. At that stage I started investigating hate radio in Kenya.  I started writing the book and doing archive research of Nazi radio and Serb/Croat radio in early 90s.  The writing started in late 2010 and I finished writing the book in January 2012. I am now writing a history of Africa since 1974.

5) What is your opinion about digital radio?
It adds to the mix of delivery forms available but stations are ditching short-wave too soon - especially the BBC World Service in its broadcasting to Africa.
6) Do you think that Al-Jazeera is "stealing" audience from BBC World Service in Africa (or in the world, generally)?
It is competing, I wouldn't say stealing. It has very good coverage of West and North Africa and adds to the rich mix of broadcasting and online news and comment that is available.  It has an appeal in parts of Africa because it is not a Western media group and comes from a different viewpoint, though a very valid one.
7) Do you think that, in a world full of information (blogs, tweets, etc..) mainstream media like BBC are still useful?
I would say even more important as much new and social media like Twitter are unverified and in many ways unverifiable. You still need to know where key news is coming from and that is has been checked. It puts a greater onus on broadcasters like to the BBC to be right rather than just first.

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