Indian journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary has been given the 2014 Google Digital Activism Award for his work in using mobile phones to bring local news to remote Indian regions in their native language. The initiative, which is called CGNet Swara (Voice of Chhattisgarh), allowed Indian citizens to report on local issues as well as listen to other reports in their language using basic or feature phones.

“If we want a better democracy, a peaceful tomorrow we can not leave Journalism in the hands of few any more. Time has come like politics, Journalism also needs to become everybody’s business. And it is possible,” Choudhary said on receiving the award.

Choudhary, a Knight International Journalism Fellow and founder of CGNet Swara beat out whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked thousands of documents related to US government surveillance last year, and two other services which help protect the freedom of expression. TAILS, an operating system that allowed encrypted communication between journalists and sources and Free Weibo, an uncensored version of China’s SinaWeibo, were also nominated.

According to Choudhary, he hopes to bridge the digital divide with projects like CGNet Swara. His research suggests some 100 million Indians who have no way of gaining access to mainstream news media. Which is where CGNet Swara steps in to solve the problem. It’s entirely voice-based and anyone can call a number to post reports about their region. “Everyone has a voice and can speak in their own mother tongue.They feel more comfortable speaking rather then writing as many do not know how to read and write. And even if they know they feel more comfortable as they are an oral community,” Choudhary said.

The stories are moderated and can be accessed through a basic mobile phone or on the Internet. According to Swara, it receives more than 500 messages per day, which go through extensive moderation, before only five are broadcast. The curation is conducted by a group selected by Swara’s community. “We are seeing many problems getting solved by making this simple connectivity. An accumulation of these unsolved simple problems create bigger problems like the one we are facing in Central India today, which our Prime Minister once called India’s biggest internal security threat,” he said.

Choudhary said the next step would need the help of the global community. “India, though, is world’s biggest democracy, we do not allow [news on] radio. We will need help from outside like yours who can give us space in radio transmitters. But it will be a different type of radio, new radio. In this democratic radio programs will not be created in studios or newsrooms but they will be created in far off forests and villages where people through their mobile phone will report.”

The award is one part of the Index Freedom of Expression Awards, that honours individuals, services or organisations for their work in advocacy, arts, digital activism and journalism.

Publish date: March 22, 2014 12:34 pm| Modified date: March 22, 2014 12:39 pm

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