A winding road to the BBC
Grady alumna Helen Charles works as senior policy adviser with British Broadcasting Corporation.
Acombined love of music and integrated studies brought Helen Charles (ABJ ’01) to UGA and helped pave the way to becoming a senior policy adviser with the British Broadcasting Corporation.
“My interdisciplinary education gave me the confidence to follow a nonlinear career path—from broadcast to regulation to policy,” she says in an interview at the BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London.
“One of the policy team’s roles is advocacy for the BBC,” she explains. “We also develop policy and offer robust, evidence-based advice. I lead on media infrastructure discussions—everything from digital television to IP networks to mobile.”
When Charles began planning for college in the mid-1990s, the young British national was attracted to the University of Georgia for a variety of reasons—not least, she was a huge fan of Athens’ contemporary pop music, and she knew American universities encouraged interdisciplinary studies.
After earning a degree in broadcast journalism with an emphasis in political science, Charles plunged into the local music scene, first as a volunteer at athensmusic.net and then as a staffer at Team Clermont, the indie music publicity and promotion company.
For the next five years, she worked with bands, recording companies and the music press, creating publicity campaigns for online, college, national and international outlets. She focused on noncommercial radio, mainly college and public stations.
With rapid changes in technology making an impact on the music industry, Charles became interested in the policies around these changes and decided to pursue graduate studies in politics and communication at the London School of Economics and Political Science, part of the University of London.
Imbued with media theory and a host of policy ideas, Charles spent the next three years working in Britain’s House of Commons as a caseworker, where she got a firsthand look at policy in action, and later as a Parliamentary researcher and office manager for the Labour Party’s then-deputy leader, Harriet Harman. “My perspective grew incredibly broad in scope,” she says of the experience.
She then shifted back into the communications sphere, joining Ofcom, the U.K.’s independent regulatory agency, as an adviser on radio spectrum programs and the public sector. Her two and a half years of experience at Ofcom led directly to her current position.
“We try to make sure the future of public service broadcasting and audience habits are being considered in key debates, on issues such as net neutrality,” she says. “Viewing habits are changing, and increasingly people want to enjoy whatever they want, wherever they are. New viewing habits mean new distribution technologies and new policy challenges.”
—By John W. English (Originally published in the June 2016 issue of Georgia Magazine)