Miércoles 13 de Julio de 2005, Ip nº 117

Are mobile phones the next revolution in media reporting?
Much has been written about the stoic response that helped Londoners overcome Thursday's terrorist attacks. But the other big development in the tragedy is the emergence of the mobile phone camera as an important tool for police and the media. Plus, Germany considers sending more troops to Afghanistan and the trial of Theo van Gogh's suspected murderer begins in Amsterdam.

Iraq isn't the only place with embedded reporters. London these days is teeming with them. Thousands of "accidental photojournalists" have been calling police with tips and snapshots that may help investigators hunt down the bombers who blew up trains in London's Underground and a city bus last Thursday, killing at least 49 people. Most of the snaps were taken at random -- and often before Londoners stuck in or around the Underground really knew that they were the victims of terrorists.

The odd thing is that these little snaps -- and the public's addiction to taking them -- are revolutionizing police investigations. In fact, British police have even set up a special e-mail address where citizens can send their mobile phone photos. Investigators believe that such random, amateurish shots could provide vital clues -- perhaps the breakthrough clue -- as to who the perpetrators were. That's because many of the photos were taken the minute the bombs hit. Amazingly, many of the photos made their way onto Web sites and blogs even before much of the world was able to process what had happened. James Cridland, the head of new media for Virgin Radio in London, for instance, posted shots of ambulances outside the King's Cross subway station (where one of the bombs went off) on the Web site Flickr when he got into work Thursday morning. Cridland had been biking to work and didn't know what had happened but thought the commotion at the station was worthy of a few casual snaps. Just 14 hours after the bombings, the Web site -- designed for picture swaps and recently snatched up by Yahoo!-- had more than 450 photos of the bombings.

Mobile phone cameras -- and their even fancier cousins, video camera phones -- are also revolutionizing news reporting. On Thursday, CNN posted video footage from a Londoner's video camera phone showing part of a bombed out London Tube. It was the first-time ever that a major news organization relied on footage from a mobile phone. But it was the best it had. Terrorism apparently has helped spur this transformation, as news organizations often get caught off guard and arrive too late at a scene to get the most pivotal footage. The trend began after the 9/11 attacks in New York, but to a much lesser degree. That's because in 2001, cell phone cameras were still a novelty. Still, Web sites brimmed with personal survival accounts, information about the missing and dead and tips on how to help. The raw emotion of the sites and the freshness hit a nerve and many mainstream news agencies started using the Web sites to find sources and inspiration. Today, phones have taken that immediacy one step further. These days, at least 75 percent of the cell phones produced by Motorola are equipped with cameras. That puts a powerful tool in all of our pockets. (2 p.m. CET)

Germany Mulls Sending more Troops to Afghanistan

The government in Berlin is currently considering a plan to increase the number of German peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan. According to a classified Defense Ministry report, sent to leaders of Germany's major political parties in parliament in late June, the plan would add an extra 800 soldiers to the deployment and also allow them to cover a far wider area in the formerly Taliban-ruled country than under its current mandate. The sending of any additional troops, however, requires parliamentary approval. A vote is expected before the current mandate expires in October.

Germany currently has more troops stationed in Afghanistan than any other nation apart from the United States, and it is the largest contributor to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the multi-national taskforce instructed by the U.N. to help with reconstruction and security in Afghanistan. German troops had previously been limited to operations in the capital, Kabul, and in the northern region of Kunduz, but the report urges much more flexibility, to allow for troop deployment anywhere within the ISAF zone, which covers roughly three-quarters of the country.

Under the plan, however, the Bundeswehr's role in tackling the burgeoning drug trade in Afghanistan will remain limited. Soldiers will be mandated to continue with their "intelligence and information-gathering" activities in conjunction with the Afghani authorities. Drug production has remained a major hindrance to the expansion of the Bundeswehr's mandate in Afghanistan. Much of the insecurity stems from the huge increase in drug production in the country, which supplied 80 percent of the world's opium in 2004, according to US government estimates. The cultivation of opium, banned under the Taliban, has increased 239 percent since 2003 and it has also become the subject of fierce battles between the country's rival drug lords.

Any further deployment of German troops, especially in the more unstable southern part of the country is bound to expose German forces to additional dangers, and may arouse opposition from a largely pacifist German public. The move will certainly please the United States, however. German opposition to the war in Iraq was well noted by the US, but diplomatic tensions have been soothed by a large German commitment to security operations in Afghanistan. If the German parliament approves the Defense Ministry's recommendations, this commitment is set to substantially increase by the end of the year and German forces will be on the front line in securing a meaningful peace in Afghanistan. (12 p.m. CET)

Last year, the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a supposed Islamist radical brought an abrupt end to the Dutch dream of a multicultural society. On Monday, the trial of Mohammed Bouyeri began under heavy security in Amsterdam.

The 26-year-old dual Dutch and Moroccan national reversed his previous threat to blow off the trial and instead showed up at the courtroom that people here dub "The Bunker," with a copy of the Koran fit snuggly under his arm. Bouyeri has admitted to killing van Gogh, and his attorney said Monday the suspected terrorist would not testify during the trial -- everything important, he said, was already stated during an interrogation in April.

Prosecutors say that on Nov. 2, 2004, Bouyeri shot van Gogh while the filmmaker was riding a bicycle, then chased the wounded man across the street for a grisly coup de grace. Van Gogh apparently pleaded with his aggressor for his life, but to no avail. He was shot repeatedly from point blank range before the perpetrator slit his throat and stabbed him with a large knife. A note spiked into Van Gogh's chest with another dagger carried threats against Hirsi Ali, his co-author in a recent film the pair made about abuses against women in Muslim culture.

Like the van Gogh murder and subsequent meltdown of a multicultural ideal, the Bouyeri trial will be closely watched by the Dutch and Europe. Describe it as whatever you want: a conflict of civilizations, the breakdown of multiculturalism or even a culture war. But the trial will be important, for the case has forced an important dialogue in Europe over how to move forward with the constructive integration of a Muslim population of about 15 million people. (11 a.m. CET)

  11/07/2005. Spiegel Online.