Electronics engineer and broadcast journalist Brian Barber of Peatmoor will be packing his bags to head out to Nigeria in March to set up a mobile phone based news system that will keep the electorate informed of developments as the country prepares to go to the polls in April.
Brian is working with the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, a charitable organisation that trains local journalists in conflict areas to gather genuine news stories and broadcast them uncensored.
He said, “I developed an Interactive Voice Response system for the September elections in Afghanistan over which people could listen to pre-recorded news about election progress in either Dari, Pashto or English.
“Mobile phone technology is commonplace in developing countries and war zones, and this is just one important and powerful way that it can be used to benefit civilians who need to know what’s really going on.”
To illustrate how news stories often get distorted by the authorities, Brian said, “the editor in Kabul received a report that a NATO convoy had been attacked and one person killed, but government officials claimed that the incident involved nothing more than a donkey cart. Having interviewed three eye witnesses the editor was able to confirm that the convoy had indeed been attacked.”
The system proved so successful Brian was asked to provide the same service for the upcoming elections in Nigeria. Brian has a wealth of experience setting up local, non-commercial radio stations across Africa. He said, “the stations are owned by the community and broadcast vital information about the lives of local people. They guard them fiercely. I have seen hundreds of people descend on a radio studio to prevent it being closed down by the police.”