Mobile news beats Zimbabwe censors

Radio station sends news by text to citizens of tightly-controlled African nation.

    News text messages have reached Zimbabwe despite efforts by the Zanu PF party of Robert Mugabe [AP]

    "Zimbabaweans truly love their mobile phones and of course what we're banking on is the virus effect," Jackson says in a feature written for the Media Helping Media website.


    "We also get up to a hundred requests a day to be added to the service so it's growing rapidly," she says.


    Cost effective


    "As the economy goes into meltdown and in-fighting escalates in the ruling party [Mugabe's Zanu PF], no simple news comes out of the country"

    Gerry Jackson, founder of SW Radio Africa writing on the

    Media Helping Media website

    The independent radio station was set up in Harare by Jackson in 2000, but "closed down at gunpoint" within six days; so the operation transferred to a new location just outside London.

    After three years their broadcasts were jammed in Zimbabwe, pushing them into developing alternative ways to get their message out.  

    SW Radio Africa has found that text messaging is a cost effective method of spending donations, with only the cost of sending the actual text message to be met. 


    The biggest challenge in using texts for news lies in condensing complex stories into a 160 character message.


    This is particularly important in Zimbabawe where inflation currently stands at nearly 1,600 per cent, meaning people have difficulty in affording basic goods and services. 


    'Popular' podcasts

    "As the economy goes into meltdown and in-fighting escalates in the ruling party [Mugabe's Zanu PF], no simple news comes out of the country," she says.

    "The situation between the Government and the independent media is very bad," Magugu Nyathi, a Zimbabwean journalist exiled in South Africa said.

    "All the Government wants is for people to read, listen and watch the state-run media, which is full of praise for Mugabe," he told


    Adding to the station's use of the latest media technology, Jackson says that podcasts – downloadable internet broadcasts that can be listened to by the user at leisure – have proved "surprisingly popular", while maximising the use of donations.


    "You can have the ideas to make your business more effective and improve information delivery, but without the hard cash it's not going to be easy," she told Media Helping Media.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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