Rampur-Mathura (Uttar Pradesh):
It is not yet 5 p.m. but the light has started fading in
Rampur-Mathura, a village of barely 5,000 people, in Sitapur
district. A group of village elders settle down comfortably in
wooden chairs around a small fire lit under a tree.
It is here that they gather every evening to discuss the day’s
events before retiring for the night. Until now, the village’s
busybodies used to keep them informed. But now they have a new
source of information — Gaon Ki Awaaz (The Village Voice), a
pathbreaking audio bulletin broadcast on their mobile phones that
comes for free.
wait begins at least 10 minutes before 5 p.m.,” says Satyendra
Pratap, the village chief and a key link in the rural broadcast.
“Most villagers now know the number from where the call comes, and
pick up the phone on the first ring. They listen intently to the
audio bulletin, and then break into an animated discussion of what
they have heard,” he adds.
path-breaking mobile bulletin broadcast twice a day - at 12 noon and
5 p.m. - is the brainchild of the International Media Institute of
India (IMII), a journalism institute which was set up early this
year in Noida with the help of the Washington-based International
Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and the New Delhi-based Society for
Policy Studies (SPS).
Bloss, a Knight International Fellow who works as an academic
consultant to IMII, is delighted by the buzz. “This is the first
time that the mobile phone is being used as a broadcast tool for
communities living in rural areas and the response has been
heartening,” he says.
Sunil Saxena, dean of IMII, attributes the popularity of the mobile
broadcasts to the fact that they are generated by the villagers and
focus on what is happening in the village. “Most importantly, they
are in their language,” he points out.
Thakur Virendra Pratap Singh, one of the recipients of the news
bulletins, concurs. “What’s most exciting about Gaon Ki Awaaz is
that it is in Avadhi and of immediate relevance to us,” Singh told
gives the example of two bulletins. One informed the farmers of 18
tonnes of urea being allotted to the village. Another bulletin gave
the time and details of a religious discourse and yagna being
organised in the village by a Haridwar mutt.
audio bulletins are a great leap over text-based SMS news alerts,
says Saxena. “One, they overcome the illiteracy barrier. And two,
they go out as recorded voice calls that can be accessed on the
simplest of mobile phones.”
Currently, the audio bulletins are broadcast to a closed user group
of 20 villagers. “Their feedback is reviewed by the IMII Faculty and
communicated to the two village reporters to make the bulletins more
focused,” Jody McPhillips, a Knight International Fellow working at
IMII, told IANS.
institute’s plans are ambitious. Bloss, who believes the rural
bulletins on mobile phones can redefine the way news is
communicated, says, “IMII plans to scale the broadcast to 500 users
by mid-January, and then extend it to the neighbouring villages.”
institute has set up a blog (http://gaonkiawaaz.wordpress.com/)
where the audio files of the bulletins, which are in local Avadhi,
and their English translations are hosted every day. The English
translations are also published on www.twitter.com/gaonkiawaaz.