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Gaon Ki Awaaz, India’s first mobile news service for rural India, has crossed yet another milestone.

The mobile news service that began broadcasting free audio bulletins as voice calls to villagers living in the Rampur-Mathura village of Sitapur district in December 2009 went paid this week.

On the very first day of the subscription drive, 42 of the 45 villagers who were approached paid the subscription fee.

“It is a great step forward for Gaon Ki Awaaz or Village Voice, “ says an ecstatic Satyendra Pratap, Editor of the service. “It shows that the villagers want news about themselves, and in their language.”

Divyakar Pratap Singh, the village reporter who generates the audio bulletins, was similarly overwhelmed. “The villagers happily paid the three-month subscription fee of Rs 30. They did not want their news bulletins to be stopped.”

Earlier, the local merchants had given a similar confidence vote to Gaon Ki Awaaz. A local cloth merchant was the first to release an ad in March 2010. Since then the village barber, tailor, Internet café operator, coaching centre owner and even the village astrologer have advertised their services.

The bulletins that are in the local Avadhi dialect are generated by two village reporters who travel in and around the villages to gather information. These are then transmitted as voice calls twice a day – at 12 noon and at 5 pm – to villagers living in 50 villages of Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh.

Initially the number of subscribers was limited to 20. In March 2009, this number was raised to 250, and the bulletins started reaching 50 villages.

“The villagers’ response shows that the model is working. It can well become the preferred news medium in rural India,“ says Pratap.

Mint, the business daily from The Hindustan Times Group, has run a detailed report on Gaon Ki Awaaz.

The report titled “Phone news bulletins to empower rural India” was published on June 14, 2010, as part of the series that the newspaper is running on innovative mobile projects that have been nominated for the mBillionth award.

Click here to read the full report on Livemint.com.

The Gaon Ki Awaaz has been shortlisted in the mNews and Journalism category for the 2010 mBillionth award instituted by Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF).

The award has been instituted for projects that best fulfil the category criteria, which is: “Use of Mobile and complementing applications and embedded services for (multi-lingual) news broadcasting in all possible media format like text, audio, video, SMS, MMS, etc.; Reaching masses and enabling people with mobile devices for citizen journalism for local and regional news through interactive applications like twitter, facebook, and other web 2.0 mobile enabled applications including Mobile 2.0 dynamic media technology applications.”

According to a mail received from the DEF, the mBilionth Committee chose the project from the 200 nominations that were received under the different categories. The nominations came from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Maldives.

The awards Grand Jury met in Colombo last week to choose the final winners. Their names will be announced in New Delhi on July 23, 2010.

Audio bulletins

The Gaon Ki Awaaz bulletins, which are broadcast twice a day on mobile phones, are also published on this blog. You can find the audio files, which are in Avadhi dialect, arranged date-wise under their respective months. You can also browse the English translations of selected bulletins. These are filed under their respective categories.

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