Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mobiles for media empowerment

Today, all eyes are on the United States with one of the most anticipated Presidential elections in decades. Amidst the excitement lurks the ever-present concern over potential election day chaos, and fears of a repeat of what happened in Florida eight years ago. Once again, mobile technology is also being touted as one way of smoothing election day progress and how it's reported, as it has been in almost every election around the world in recent years. The proposed use of Twitter is perhaps the one key addition in USA'08.

In the coming months three West African countries also go to the polls - Ghana, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Sadly, access to balanced and unbiased election information is often a key problem in these countries. The logistical challenges of running nationwide elections is often compounded by a lack of election-specific knowledge among local media, which can often lead to misreporting, misinformation and - in worse-case scenarios - civil unrest. Availability of ICT tools for local journalists can also be problematic, compounding the problem yet further.

To address some of these challenges, the International Institute for ICT Journalism, in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), are embarking on the "West African Elections Information and Knowledge Project".

The project seeks to strengthen the role of the media in election reporting through the training of senior editors, journalists and reporters; developing and disseminating an 'Election Reporting Guide for the Media'; the use of text messaging in election coverage and monitoring with FrontlineSMS; and the creation of a Knowledge Online Portal.

The use of mobile technology in election monitoring may be nothing new, although promoting the use of text messaging specifically as a media enabler represents something of a departure from its usual use by official election monitor groups. The choice of FrontlineSMS is also significant. The software has already been successfully implemented in Nigeria to enable what is widely believed to be Africa's first citizen election monitoring project, and it was used in the last Philippine elections to help organise official monitoring teams around the country. In recent weeks it has also been lined up to help register 135,000 overseas Filipino workers in advance of the upcoming 2010 elections.

Further details on the West African election project are available via the Africa Election Portal website, and updates will also be posted on the kiwanja.net blog as the project moves forward.


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