Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Citizen Journalism and mGovernance in Rural India

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, August 19 2013

Imagine nearly 20 million people without access to news and current events. In the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, language barriers, illiteracy, lack of Internet access and strict radio regulations exclude millions living in rural communities from the mainstream media. A voice messaging service called CGNet Swara overcomes those obstacles and empowers anyone in rural India with a cell phone to become a citizen journalist.

Started in 2010 by Knight International Journalism Fellow Shubhranshu Choudhary, CGNet Swara has had a measurable impact on rural communities. Each success is documented on their blog. For example, on August 7, 2013:

Rajim from Balodabazar district of Chhattisgarh is telling us that on 2nd she had reported in Swara about villages where food was not being served in school Mid-day meals and anganwadi from more than a month. She says next day she got calls from district officials who visited the villages and on 4th food grains reached schools and anganwadis. She thanks Swara and requests all to use it solve their problems.

On August 6, 2013:

Naresh Bunkar from Kabirdham district is telling us that a forest officer had taken Rs 99,000 bribe from 33 Baiga adivasis of Bhangitola village which was reported on 17th July on Swara. Today officer Mr Lahre has returned Rs 3000 each to all 33 Baiga adivasis and they are very happy. Last week Mr Lahre had called on Swara to apologize and had promised to return the money within a week.

These success stories show that the service is being used as a sort of government watchdog site, with positive results.

Still, CGNet Swara users remain a minority in Chhattisgarh. A recent study of CGNet Swara, published in June, assessed the impact and success of the initiative:

As of December 2012, CGNet Swara had received 137,000 phone calls and posted 2,100 recordings. . .Currently, it publishes about three new posts and receives approximately 200 calls per day; thus, the vast majority of callers only listen to content. System posts were contributed by at least 715 distinct callers. As in many systems hosting user-generated content. . .the 10% most active contributors are responsible for a large fraction (51%) of the posts. More than 18,000 distinct callers have listened to content; of these, 2,850 are “regular” callers (they have called 10 or more times), while 7,500 people called the system only once. The 10% most active listeners are responsible for 61% of the phone calls. The average phone call is three minutes long, and the server streams approximately 10 hours of audio con- tent per day. The system is growing steadily, with roughly 25 new contributors authoring a post each month, and about 700 new listeners calling in for the first time.

Authors Preeti Mudliar, Jonathan Donner and William Thies concluded the success of CGNet Swara is due to its use of voice technology integrated with the web. Callers press two to listen to recent stories and one to record their own. After stories are vetted and verified by professional journalists, CGNet Swara sends an SMS alert to the contact list to let them know a new story is up. Stories are simultaneously posted on Facebook and Twitter as well.

CGNet uses open-source software and the most basic of system requirements, outlined on their about page, where they also extend an offer of guidance to organizations interested in setting up a similar service.

h/t Julia Wetherell

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

More