BBC Arabic’s latest format elevates citizens from the role of reporter to producer. The network’s head Hosam El Sokkari – who is also the creator of the 710 Greenwich current affairs talk show – gives us the scoop.
The show offers viewers a far more inclusive and influential role in each episode’s production, why do you think this is important to increase this level of involvement?
It is an intellectual loss to society to limit the voices of bloggers. We want to bridge the gap between the cyber and traditional spheres of information. Some people consider them as like oil and water but eventually there will be no difference between media and what we presently call new media.
What do you think is the driving force behind this blending of the two?
I reviewed my relationship with audiences and was struck by the fact that they are empowered so strongly by technology. They can challenge the traditional media’s domination of mass communication and the barrier to entry is minimal. Previously if you wanted to speak to the masses you had to buy a newspaper company or build a TV station.
Now you can pay a few dollars and go to an internet café and reach millions of people.
Is the concept of 710 Greenwich a natural progression of an existing trend?
There have been four generations of interactivity if you like.
First the public provided quotes and ideas by SMS. Citizen journalism was then used within programmes. Then visual user generated content was integrated into shows and became an integral part or even the basis of some formats.
We are looking to go one step further now. They want to interact and take part. The viewers have the opportunity not just to be reporters or contributors but to actually research and produce the show. We can put them in the director’s seat.
Are broadcasters keeping pace with these changes so far?
Social networking is growing fast. Traditional broadcasters aren’t always aware of just how quickly. The initial adoption of the internet has been much faster than that of TV and radio. When you look at the growth of Facebook, the rate of adoption is incredible.
How do you filter the collaborators and monitor the content?
There is still a permanent staff working on the show. Some of these have been recruited from the blogosphere in the Middle East. There is also a core group of Arab bloggers that regularly participate as well as many, many more who do so occasionally. The show must still adhere to the same editorial guidelines as our other content.
Discourse in the Middle East is often emotional, this is partly about changing this.
How do viewers perform producing and researching roles remotely?
Each show has one interviewee. These are chosen by the network of contributors. There is then a discussion online about the issues that will be approached. Questions are suggested and we ask for these to be backed up by evidence. This research is also done within the network.
So for example, a question could be based on a previous statement made by that guest. They can find a video clip of this speech, which we can present to the guest on the show.
Where do these discussions take place?
We can’t use every social networking tool so we have selected a few specific open platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and Blogspot.