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Migration and Career Trajectories at BBC World Service

Since its inception in 1932 as the Empire Service, the BBCWS has been an employer of diasporic personnel encompassing diverse categories of migrants: exiles, dissidents, refugees, sojourners, long term residents and/or UK citizens). While some diasporic broadcasters have developed successful careers as famous writers, artists or diplomats during or after working at Bush House, the working lives and careers of most are invisible. Very little is known about changing recruitment, employment and training practices of the BBCWS or about the specific experiences of diasporic staff – their points of entry into the WS, their career pathways inside the WS, their reasons for departure and later careers. We know very little about how the BBCWS has 'managed diversity' – its successes and its failures - and how this remarkably polyglot institution and workforce has contributed not only to the UK but also to the global reputation of the BBCWS.

Research aims

  1. To track the career trajectories of diasporic (including exilic, refugee, sojourner, and long term resident/UK citizen) staff working in the BBC World Service.
  2. To assess the changing role and status of diasporic staff within the structures and hierarchies at Bush House, and the opportunities and constraints on their career development, inside or outside the BBC.
  3. To gain insights into how the diasporic communities to which staff belong (or not) and the transnational networks which they forge – economic, cultural and political and social - are mobilised, maintained and developed (or not) and their significance for working lives and careers.

The research methodology consisted of three overlapping, and mutually shaping, strands: Survey of career trajectories in six language services (Arabic, Hungarian, Persian, Polish, Russian, and Somali) based on BBCWS data in liaison with HR; In-depth interviews with 6 current and former senior World Service Managers; and In-depth interviews with 6 current and former diasporic personnel.

Data from each strand will be 'triangulated', with special attention paid to the ways in which the methods we use intervene in the research process. The core qualitative interview data will be contextualised in the frame of survey data (from HR) and alongside further interview data gathered in the process of research and two witness seminars aimed at eliciting collective memories and testimonies of working lives at Bush House and intra institutional group dynamics.

Project contact: 

Prof Marie Gillespie, The Open University,

    Project members: 

  • Andrew Taussig was Director of Foreign Language Services at the BBC World Service [1996-2000] and before that Controller of European Services and Head of the Central European Service. He was previously a senior editor in BBC Television Current Affairs and had also worked directly for the BBC Director of News & Current Affairs – in which capacity he drafted the first edition of the BBC News and Current Affairs Production Guidelines. He was involved for several years in the recruitment and tuition of television graduate trainees. Andrew is now a Research Associate with the Oxford University Programme in Comparative Media Law & Policy [PCMLP], a Trustee of Voice of the Listener and Viewer (UK) and of the International Institute of Communications [IIC]. He served as a member of the Council of Chatham House [2002-2005], and was consultant to the British Council for the Geneva World Summit on the Information Society (2003). He is a member of the International Academic Advisory Committee for the Asian Media, Information and Communication Centre [AMIC], and contributed the chapter “Public Service Broadcasting – Theory and Reality: The Measurement Challenge” in AMIC's Public Service Broadcasting in the Age of Globalization [Singapore, 2006]. He also contributes articles to Media Asia, Commonwealth Broadcaster, Intermedia and other journals. His article for the Tuning-In Project, “You win some, you lose some – 1989 and after (tracing language service developments in the BBC World Service before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall)” was published in a special edition of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television [October 2008].

    Jadzia Denselow (BSc Sociology) worked for BBC Television for over twenty years. When she left, she was a Programme Executive and Versioning Producer in the BBC Independent Factual Department. Since then, Jadzia has run the Television and Design Production course at Kingston University. She has also worked as the Head of Communications at Intelligence Squared, in the staging of debates at the Royal Geographical Society.

    Marie Gillespie is Professor of Sociology at the Open University and the Principal Investigator on Tuning In. She is Director of media research ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). Her research interests focus on the political, socio-cultural and economic implications of migrant transnationalism, especially in relation to the South Asian diaspora. Recent Open University teaching texts include an edited volume Media Audiences (2005) and Analysing Media Texts (2006). Recent research projects include: an audience ethnography of media coverage of the attacks of 9/11/2001; Mediating Security, a study on transnational news cultures and the politics of security. Her publications include a monograph entitled Television, Ethnicity and Cultural Change (Routledge, 1995).

    Dr Alban Webb is a Research Fellow in Sociology at the Open University, working as part of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). His previous research as a historian has focused on Cold War Britain, examining the UK's nuclear deterrence strategy, intelligence services and civil defence planning. His book on the BBC World Service, London Calling: BBC External Services and the Cold War, will be published in 2011. His latest research, on the roles of public and cultural diplomacy in the context of international relations (most recently as part of the AHRC-funded Tuning In: Diasporic Contact Zones at the BBC World Service project) forms the basis of his ongoing examination of the changing Cultures of Diplomacy at work in British overseas communication strategies.

    Hugh Saxby is head of Governance and Public Affairs at the BBC World Service. He joined BBC World Service in 1979 and has experience across all its activities including operations, production, organisation, business planning and governance. He has been a member of the World Service Board since 2003 where he is responsible for governance, accountability, heritage and internal communications. In 2007 his role was extended to include all of the BBC's Global News division. Hugh holds a Masters degree in Business Administration.

    Jess MacFarlane has worked at BBC World Service for many years in a variety of roles - most recently heading the team which manages day-to-day relationships with the FCO, Parliament and other UK-based stakeholder organisations and individuals. Jess has worked closely with Prof Marie Gillespie and the OU on Tuning In and related projects, and is on the Advisory Board Committee of the Centre for Research on Scio-Cultural Change (CRESC).