Saturday, August 16, 2008

Audio content production and delivery is the first step to instigating citizen journalism

Since October 2007, I have been voluntarily engaging in building capacity within Sarvodaya with the intent of mobilizing rural communities in developing local content. If we are to divide content as text, audio, and video, the question is "which one of the mediums do we start with first, in a Sri Lanka?"

We can rule out video based on cost of production and need for professionalism. Similarly, the production and distribution of text; i.e. a newsletter, would be rather costly and would be hard to recover the costs from the subscribers. In general Sri Lankan people are less inclined to reading and writing; i.e. even in a long distance bus one would observe nearly zero people to read a book or a news paper. However, would be apt to listening to the bus radio or even their built in FM radio on the mobile phone. Therefore, Sarvodaya policy was to use audio as a medium to instigate the concept of citizen journalism within its mandate.

My belief is developing audio, which is as simple as pressing the record button and speaking one's mind in to a microphone is far more simpler than electronically composing a story or making a video that is meaningful. Moreover, delivery of audio requires much less bandwidth opposed to video.

The community based audio production and delivery concept was presented to an audience at LIRNEasia by my colleague Chamindha Rajakaruna to get an opinion on the foreseen strategy. The real-time blog on the colloquium titled "Sarvodaya satellite and web radio, a precursor to community-radio, the way forward and challenges" highlights the concept. The colloquium was valuable to us in seeing the way forward; especially in separating the tow intents: 1) Internal closed user group broadcast of content on Sarvodaya philosophy, governance, and activities 2) pure citizen journalism creating a platform for people to voice their opinions and exchange ideas. I have written a comment on the LIRNEasia blog under the same colloquium topic saying that in a country where broadband in rural areas is still in its infancy an alternative broadcast technology and a peer-to-peer technology are both necessary, if Sarvodaya is to achieve intentions 1) & 2).

This community based audio content production and delivery project is a spin off from the past HazInfo project, which concluded the need for both the WorldSpace addressable satellite radios for emergency alerts and Dialog/Microimage Java enabled mobile phones for SMS alerts as the two technologies that could provide complementary redundancy in a closed user group last-mile hazard warning system. While mobile phones have been embraced in to the daily lives of people in Sri Lanka, the WorldSpace satellite radio remains a new and unheard information communication technology in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the greater challenge is developing a sustainable platform for the satellite radios as a technology that is always used. Deshodaya Media Production Unit took on the challenge of developing connect through a community participatory approach to bring life to the channel dedicated to Sarvodaya.

Given that the satellite radio and mobile phone technologies are currently in operation, it is ideal to use these two technologies as basis to test the content production and development processes such that when broadband with internet is widely accessible in rural Sri Lanka, the citizens would have the know how to develop MP3 audio content for exchanging information.