This post is a guest column written by FrontlineSMS user Ananda Galappatti, editor of Minmini News, a women’s news network in Sri Lanka.
Minmini News is a local SMS news service for women in the Batticaloa District of Eastern Sri Lanka. Batticaloa is the poorest district of Sri Lanka, still slowly emerging from the destruction of a three decade-long civil war that ended in 2009.
Throughout the war, and following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Batticaloa’s coastline, women played a crucial role in responding to the difficult circumstances that their families and communities had to endure. The same is true now, during the difficult recovery period after the war. However, the important concerns and remarkable experiences of women in Batticaloa are rarely reflected in the mainstream media that reaches their towns and villages. The news they receive, it seems, is not produced with them in mind.
Developing a model
In mid-2010, a small informal group associated with women’s groups in Batticaloa decided to trial a model for sourcing, producing and sharing news relevant to women of the area. This model was tested through two pilot-testing phases in 2011, with small groups of 15-30 readers, who also served as the sources of news.
The data from the pilot phase showed that not only were readers overwhelming positive about the service, but that it exposed them to novel and useful information, and had some influence on their perspectives. Minmini Seithihal (translation: Firefly News) went public in August 2011.
The model tested continues to be used, and is directly based around sourcing news from the strong network of women community workers in different parts of the district. News information is collected, fact-checked, and written up in text messages by a central “news team” of one or two women. The prepared news messages can then be reviewed by an editor, and between one and three messages are sent out to readers (who subscribe to the service via text message) through FrontlineSMS each day.
Bringing meaning to events
Minmini News delivers a broad range of content to its readers. It provides information about public services relevant to women, as well as information relevant to livelihoods and cost of living. Minmini News also covers local crises, such as flood disasters or local conflicts between neighboring communities. In addition, it reports on services for gender-based violence and challenges faced by women in post-conflict recovery.
In all its coverage, Minmini News has tried to highlight the meaning that the events or processes have for the lives of women — often drawing attention to individual stories to convey this. Rather than provide explicit editorial commentary on issues, typically a series of thematically related SMS stories are used to provide a series of factual reports for readers to interpret themselves. Stories are sourced from the team of volunteer “reporters,” and also from readers.
The impact on readers and women
Independent interviews with readers and the women who have contributed to Minmini News have shown that the service is appreciated, and that it has changed relationships to consumption and sharing of news and information. One reader said, “It is difficult for me or others to go out and get news in our environment. Now we all have mobile phones in our hands, so it is good to get news from where we are [located].”
In another remarkable case, after hearing a news story via Minmini News, a community worker assisted a family to file a report on a woman who had been missing in the Middle East for over a year. When she was traced, it was found that she had been severely maltreated, and she was repatriated for care and recovery at home. Many of the effects of Minmini News are more subtle than this, but it’s clear women subscribing to the service feel that the way they’ve engaged with mainstream media has changed, and they are more sensitive to issues related to women’s lives and rights.
Minmini News is now entering a new phase, with active recruitment of women readers in rural communities in Batticaloa, bringing new opportunities in terms of prospects for broader sources of news — but also new challenges. To learn more about the model of this mobile news service, see some examples of content, and hear more about Minmini News’ plans for the future, visit the FrontlineSMS blog. You can read a longer version of this post here.
Ananda Galappatti is a medical anthropologist and a practitioner in the field of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in situations of emergency and chronic adversity. He is a co-founder of the journal Intervention, the online network mhpss.net and the social business The Good Practice Group. Ananda lives in the town of Batticaloa on the East coast of Sri Lanka, where he volunteers as an editor for Minmini News.