Broadcast engineer Brian Barber from Peatmoor spent March and much of April in West Africa, setting up a mobile phone based Interactive Voice Response system for daily news reporting to keep the electorate informed during the Nigerian elections.
Working on behalf of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, a charitable organisation that trains local journalists to gather genuine news stories and broadcast them uncensored, Brian said the trip to the Nigerian capital Lagos was ‘a bit of a nightmare.’
“It’s a good job I took some temporary kit with me because the hardware was two weeks late and broken on arrival,” he said. “We got it working just before the first round of the election, only to find out that voting had to be delayed by a week.”
“The system is still functional, and local journalists continue to submit stories each day.”
Brian described an incident where a female presidential candidate ran up huge bills at a five star hotel in Lagos, before disappearing without paying. She then turned up at a TV station to broadcast her speech, only to be arrested immediately afterwards.
“Yet the Nigerian newspapers didn’t report it at all,” said Brian.
Sadly the elections were accompanied by violence which was not reported on national news, but was broadcast over IVR by IWPR trained journalists.
Reflecting on the importance of independent news sources, Brian said, “the protests across the Arab world have highlighted the importance of sustainable means of communication such as community radio, which is less vulnerable to shut down by the state than the internet and mobile phone networks.”
“It’s so important to know what is really happening, and it’s our job to provide the means for people to know the truth.
“The next application for the IVR system is likely to be for delivering health information, and to provide a safe way of reporting incidents of gender-based violence,” said Brian. “But I am supposed to be retired.”
Retired or not, Brian is available to give talks to groups about his experiences in Africa, including the time he was airlifted from a Liberian radio station that was under fire. Contact BBarber743@aol.com