Is the work of BBC World Service Trust a form of cultural imperialism? This was one of the key concerns raised by the audience during a presentation on the work of the BBC World Service Trust by Gerry Power, Head of Research at the organization.
The Trust aims to use media to fight poverty and empower local communities especially in rural areas. Projects include the use of soap operas and advertising to promote the use of condoms in Africa and the use of radio to inform and educate farmers in Ethiopia. This humanitarian agenda is pursued within a framework of BBC values – “independence, impartiality and honesty”.
While these aims appear laudable, a member of the audience questioned whether these really do represent the potential for good or whether they represent an agenda of cultural imperialism and paternalistic intervention.
The cultural imperialist argument accuses the west of dominating particularly underdeveloped countries and imposing their cultures on others. While it may be possible to argue this for the BBC World Service it is harder to argue this for the Trust for a number of reasons.
First, the Trust’s media and communication activities are aimed at addressing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals which do have widespread support from around the world. In addition, some of the countries they work in do not respect even the basic human rights of life, liberty etc. But the work of the Trust aims to empower people to claim their rights to food, work and education.
Second, The Trust’s work is mainly donor driven. So, they technically cannot indulge in UK propaganda, when the funding comes from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, UN, EU, Africa Educational Trust, and others.
Third, the Trust does not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Instead, meticulous research aims to identify the cultural, sociological and political sensitivities of their target audiences. Their programmes in health, education, governance and human rights, emergency response, environment and livelihoods, are then carefully adjusted to meet these.
This post was written by Pablo Rivero and Aleksandra Radetic who are studying a masters’ degree in political communication at Kingston University.