Beating censorship in Zimbabwe via SMS

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Mar 05, 2007

Gerry Jackson reports on Media Helping Media about the radio station SW Radio Africa outsisde of London that is sending sms headlines about news in Zimbabwe to it's subscriber base of about 2,000 mobile users. Jackson writes:

"We generate news headlines on a daily basis anyway - so this is just another way of using what already exists.

It’s nice and cost effective for any additional donor because there is only the one cost, actually sending the texts. In two months we’ve built up an address database of about 2,000 mobile phone numbers. Like many, Zimbabweans truly love their mobile phones and of course what we’re banking on is the virus effect.

We also get up to 100 requests a day to be added to the service so it’s growing rapidly. What becomes interesting is what business model to use?

Zimbabweans are far too poor to pay for this service with an unemployment rate of 80% and the highest inflation in the world at 1,593%, and rising."

According to an exiled journalist, Magugu Nyathi, interviewed by South Africa's

“The situation between the Government and the independent media is very bad. The Mugabe regime is trying as much as it can to suppress the independent voices, which tell the truth...This is not the first time that a radio station is banned. They did it with VOP, whose directors were arrested and offices were burned down, and the station moved out of the country. At some stage, the Government also confiscated radios belonging to listeners from the rural areas who mostly listened to the independent station called Studio 7. Frankly, we do not know when and how this situation will end. What pains me is the fact that people have no platform to voice their anger and dissatisfaction. Everyone is deprived of the freedom of expression and association.”

Zimbabwe police have ban all political rallies and street protests, and disssenters and human rights advocates are routinely harrassed or arrested. In recent weeks the situation has markedly deteriorated after a weekend of violence and repression earlier in February.

According to the Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF), a New York-based organisation that provides low-cost financing to independent news media in emerging democracies, more than 80% of people live in countries with no free press - more than 5 billion people.

The story on SMS radio news into Zimbabwe was picked up by the English edition of Al Jazeera and the BBC. We have reason to believe that MobileActives are involved in either this and other efforts to broadcast news to mobile subscribers via sms in Zimbabwe. To you who are involved, especially in the country, thank you and stay safe.

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