But radio news is not part of
Regardless, the effect is that in a country with hundreds of different languages and a literacy rate of around 65 percent, a large portion of Indian’s 1.2 billion people do not have access to independent news and information.
In the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh state, villagers tell Choudhary that they have no voice in the media and therefore no way of effectively communicating with each other or making their concerns known to policymakers in the state capital or New Delhi.
Most people in the region where Choudhary works are illiterate and have no electricity. All India Radio is not broadcast in Gondi, the local language. Print reporters, says Choudhary, write for regional and national papers and do much of their reporting by phone. “Reporting is completely one-sided," Choudhary explains. "You get your reports from police sources and you don’t need to go the villages.”
Choudhary believes that feelings of isolation and
marginalization fuel the Maoist insurgency. Known as “Naxalites” for the town
in West Bengal where the insurgency began four decades ago, the Maoists are
active today in a large swath of
Choudhary, a former BBC producer and Knight International Journalism Fellow has worked with Microsoft and MIT to develop new a system that allows tribal villagers to use their mobile phones to disseminate and receive news. It works like this: Villagers who want to report news call a phone number and leave a recorded message in their local language. The information is then verified and disseminated via mobile phone, SMS message, and a Web site, Cgnet.
“We’re excited about voice in general as an interface in
low-income communities,” says Bill Thies, a researcher with Microsoft in
“Our role technologically in this is to make it as easy as possible,” says Choudhary, who has been training villagers to function as citizen journalists. “We want to demystify the media. Journalists think they are god’s gift to man. It’s really pretty simple to be a journalist. You just push a button and talk.”
Mobile phone technology is empowering poor people not just