Phone media brings news to India’s Maoist heartland

RAIPUR, May 14, 2010 (AFP) – When Samir Xalxo has a story to tell he makes a phone call and within hours people across one of India’s least developed and most violent states will be able to catch up on the news. The system, developed by Microsoft Research India, allows trained amateur journalists in Chhattisgarh state to call their reports in to a central number where they are recorded and checked by moderators.

A text message then goes out to everyone on the service’s contacts list and they can phone in to hear the story at normal phone charge costs — less than five rupees (10 US cents).

Such simple and cheap technology is a boon in Chhattisgarh, which is beset by an increasingly violent Maoist insurgency.

State television and radio are the only sources of news and not widely trusted, literacy is low and many people are cut off from all communication except by mobile telephones or landlines.

“We report on whatever affects ordinary people,” said Xalxo, one of 33 trained volunteers working unpaid for CGNet Swara (Chhattisgarh Net Voice).

“We do not target the state government nor are we supporting the Maoists. We are interested in issues which are ignored by Chhattisgarh’s regula