) Radio Azadi
, RFE's Afghan station, has launched an interactive SMS service that is connecting the station more directly with its audience, especially villagers in remote, inaccessible regions who are often cut off from news and information.
Thanks to a recent partnership between RFE and mobile service provider Etisalat, mobile phone users in Afghanistan can now subscribe to free SMS news updates and emergency alerts from Radio Azadi.
"The exciting thing is that it's not just Radio Azadi sending news to subscribers," says RFE Associate Director of Broadcasting Akbar Ayazi
. "It's our subscribers sending news back to us. Since the project launched less than a month ago, we've already received more than 5,000 text messages from people all around the country - this 'citizen journalism' is unique in Afghanistan."
One recent text message to Radio Azadi, for example, came from Samandar Khpalwak of the Ghani Khel district of Nangarhar province, who complained that a local teacher's training institute lacks a building. Another cell phone user from the Narkh district of Logar province texted that the followers of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Islamic Party are extracting money from locals by blocking roads and making violent threats.
Each morning and evening, Etisalat customers who subscribe to the free service receive news headlines from Radio Azadi in either Dari or Pashto. They also get SMS messages on their phones with breaking news and emergency alerts.
In addition to texts, Ayazi says subscribers will soon be able to send Radio Azadi photos and videos from their mobile devices. He says the station has launched a new weekly program in which many of the SMS messages it receives are read on the air.
Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan has an estimated 57 percent penetration rat
e for mobile phone use -- 17 million subscribers out of a population of 29 million.
About Radio Azadi
In the eight years since RFE launched Radio Azadi as part of an effort to help build a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan, the station has become the most popular media outlet in the country (Source: Intermedia). For more on Afghanistan, check out RFE's new "Gandhara