New Mobile SMS Service Helps Indonesian Villagers Hold Company Accountable
- The first message came by text on October 17 from a cell phone in rural
Indonesia, and it quickly got results a surprising and
encouraging turn of events for the new citizen journalist who sent it.
"One hundred residents of Sei Enau village are defending their
lands," it read in the native Indonesian language. It was the very
first SMS message sent through a new communications system developed by
Knight International Journalism Fellow Harry Surjadi, in partnership
with Ruai TV. The system enables citizen journalists trained by Surjadi
to text reports to Ruai SMS where they are confirmed and then sent via
text message to subscribers, who include other villagers and citizen
journalists as well as police and government officials.
The message came from Adrianus Adam Tekol, a newly trained citizen
journalist who lives in the village about three hours from the city of
Pontianak, where Ruai TV is located. He reported that local villagers
were protesting a company they felt was violating its legal obligations
to hire local villagers, repair damaged roads and turn over some
property to area residents in exchange for use of the land.
Within three days, residents managed to get a rare meeting with the
company. Police and government officials were also present. Tekol
credits the SMS system with building public pressure on the company to
agree to the meeting. It was penalized, and has begun recruiting local
workers and making needed road repairs.
"Before, we negotiated with a sword," Tekol said, referring to
the occasional violence between villagers and companies arguing over
land use. "Now we negotiate with a cell phone."
"This was an important story because until now indigenous people
have not had a voice, have not been able to interact with mainstream
media or have any platform for expressing their concerns," said
Surjadi. "Now, as more and more people learn how to send messages,
and begin to understand what it is to be a citizen journalist, they
have a new kind of power. They are better able to defend themselves,
and to communicate when there are problems to be addressed."
The new service launched in mid-October. So far a total of 106 citizen
journalists have been trained, and 170 subscribers are signed up for
"We expect to get more every day," Surjadi said. "As the
service grows, we expect more people to sign up and start using it."