BBC World Service has released a digital documentary across social networks in a bid to engage with young Arabic speakers who are using social media to access news.
The project, titled ‘Sex, honour, shame and blackmail in an online world‘, focuses on the issues surrounding honour-based violence in conservative societies across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
Daniel Adamson, digital producer, BBC Arabic, explained that rather than producing an investigative documentary for television, the documentaries team wanted to produce a shareable ten-part series designed to engage with audiences on social platforms.
“We are making a lot of great television documentaries for a diminishing audience, as the majority of Arabic speakers under the age of 35 watch little TV.
“Instead, they get their news from their social media feed,” he said.
“We were looking for a way to produce an in-depth investigative documentary for the social web, to be consumed on a mobile phone.”
Using a combination of video, text and animation, the project tells the individual stories of women who have been blackmailed with private and sometimes sexually explicit images, who live in cultures where publication of this media could endanger their life.
Adamson, who worked alongside co-producers Mamdouh Akbiek and Eloise Dicker, had been liaising with colleagues across the BBC to report from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, as well as many other areas across the region.
“We decided to use illustration for some of the stories because many of the women who spoke with us didn’t want to appear on camera, and we didn’t want to pixelate or black-out faces,” Adamson said.
“In every case, we commissioned illustrators from the regions or countries concerned, ensuring that the artist would really understand what those places looked like, and who would not introduce cultural stereotypes into the storytelling.”
The video series, which was produced in both Arabic and English, received a positive reaction on Facebook, with one video being viewed over five million times.
“You often hear that 90 seconds is a good guideline length for social sharing, but we didn’t restrict the stories to that, as we wanted to let them breath and give them as long as they needed,” he said.
The team repurposed the content for audiences on Instagram who require shorter stories in a square video format, and also identified social media influencers in the Arab world who they were able to collaborate with to speak about the issue on YouTube, connected with audiences under 20 years old that the BBC World Service struggles to reach.
“We also produced a vertical video introduction to the series that takes audiences through the whole concept behind it, where audiences can tap through the media to get an overview of what the investigation is about.”
“This was designed to be viewed on a mobile as well, where viewers can jump straight from that to the stories tab and engage with the content.”
The project, which lasted for nine months, is the first from the new digital documentaries unit within BBC Arabic, and it aims to set the path for new ways to engage with digital audiences through documentary storytelling in the future.
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