Author: Elias M. Banda, May 9 2014 The advancement in mobile phone technologies has brought about unlimited opportunities for seeking, storing and sharing of information.
Ten years ago, mobile phones appeared to be a preserve for a select few, mostly urban based. But the number has been rapidly growing. According to the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the number of mobile phone users grew from 413,120 in 2004 to 10,542,676 in 2012.
This increase in mobile phone usage means more people in the rural areas are now able to receive and share information with their local radio stations and amongst themselves. ZICTA statistics also show that there has been a sharp increase in the use of mobile internet. By December 2012, Zambia had approximately 2,196,117 mobile internet users.
The increased availability of data-enabled phones means that families in rural areas can now engage more with people and communities far away from them and learn quicker ways of sharing information and transmitting news. The news announcing the outbreak of a disease is now an SMS [text] away. Pictures too can now be shared with relevant offices at the press of a button.
This has revolutionised the way of doing things in many villages. It is this power and potential of data-enabled mobile phones that are equipped with the internet, high pixel cameras and recorders that many communications for development experts are trying to harness for the betterment of rural communities.
A number of questions arise. How can rural audiences living long distances apart and away from their community radio station take part in the radio programme discussions, including influencing what programmes are produced and aired from their local radio station? How can they interact with the community radio staff and contribute news stories and programme ideas?
How can the radio station use these mobile telephones to identify who among the surrounding communities listen to their radio broadcast and what programmes they like? How can policy makers and the local government engage with their communities using the convergence of technology as provided for by these mobile phones? How do we improve our good governance?
To address these and other questions, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) with the support of UNESCO [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] implemented a project to support the use of ICTs [information and communication technologies], social media and open source software to link up community radio stations and their audience through an ICTs enabled platform. ICTs and social media promises to be a great solution to community radio stations’ problem of inadequate resources to hire correspondents or meet transport costs.
Mainstreaming of ICTs and social media also promises to bring together government experts, the community radio stations and their audiences to discuss local issues of interest affecting them and propose solutions, which are then broadcast by the radio station.
This interaction also informs the radio station on the type of information, education and communication (IEC) materials their audiences expect to receive from them via their radio programmes.
There has been an ongoing project aimed at building the capacity of local radios in using ICTs and social media to interact and monitor the provision of radio services to their communities. The project has been building the capacity of seven radio stations in the usage and mainstreaming of these ICTs, social media and open source tools in the day to day running of these radio stations.
The radio stations participating in this project are Mphangwe, Lyambai, Breeze FM, Zambezi FM, Isoka FM, Kasempa FM and Itezhitezhi FM. To the community media and their rural audiences, the internet provides an interactive opportunity for them to share and receive information in the comforts of their homes and with little effort.
Through social media and other interactive Web 2.0 applications, community radio stations can now interact with their audiences by conducting programme surveys, audience surveys and recording voices from the communities via these web applications.