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U.S. seeks to develop mobile news service in Afghanistan

In the never-ending attempt by U.S. officials to manage the news business in Afghanistan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has come up with a new twist: a mobile phone service that would supply subscribers with free customized, daily news reports. They would include broadcasts streamed from local and foreign radio and television broadcasts (in languages spoken in Afghanistan), newspaper articles read aloud, and even local blogs.

Subscribers would be able to customize which news and analysis they want to receive and access the service through a number of ways including calling a toll-free number for a menu of what's available or selecting a particular service they want and receiving a daily call.

The purpose, according to a USAID solicitation released yesterday is "to enable the sophisticated news consumption behavior of Afghans who have highly developed skills for triangulating facts by accessing a variety of news sources."

News sources selected for being carried on the service are to be paid on a per-user rate which, according to the USAID notice, could encourage such groups "to produce higher qualify and quantity of content." It is to be operated "according to a non-discrimination standard in regard to independent news and information content." Not mentioned, by the way, is whether the news sources would include those favorable to the Taliban or critical of the U.S. and coalition forces.

Dubbed "Mobile Khabar," which means mobile news in both Dari and Pashtun, USAID is looking for private, non profit organizations or for-profit companies "willing to forego profits" to undertake putting together the venture which they see as among other things "increasing the number of individuals creating and sharing their own news and information amongst each other" and "expanding use of cell phones as a delivery system for news and information."

USAID expect this proposed "Access to Information Foundation" would need $7 million a year to operate. While access would be free to subscribers, the agency believes advertising would be a part. This according to USAID, would be another lesson the system teaches the Afghans -- that "from the outset...users gain an understanding that advertising comes as part of the provision of news and information."

By Walter Pincus  | July 30, 2010; 2:51 PM ET
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I hope they are visionary enough to include health news stories to target women's and children's health. Health has the potential to be a stabilizing influence, if the messages are courtesy of the Ministry of Public Health, and are addressed to the needs of daily life in Afghanistan, including how to access the system, report corruption, self-care and family care and so on.

The power of cell phones in anti-corruption efforts is tantalizing - if the inspector general (for example) receives enough calls about a particular official's demanding bribes, it should be enough evidence to move an investigation and prosecution.

Posted by: WarnerAndersonMD1 | July 31, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

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