Just over 10 years ago, I was in Kampala, Uganda reporting on a business conference. It was a drab affair – largely about insurance issues. The Ugandan President had said he would attend the opening. He didn’t bother.
I had fallen into a reverie of reporting on turgid issues in Kampala’s spectacular surroundings. But suddenly, on the third day, I was shaken out of it.
Pottering around in my room at lunchtime, I heard gunfire just outside. My first reaction was to get down on the floor. My second reaction was to think ‘what am I doing down here? I’m a journalist…this is gold dust!’
So I got back up, picked up my pen and pad and starting writing down what was happening.
It seemed the bank next door was being robbed - incompetently.
The armed robbers had tried to wrestle a rifle from the bank’s only security guard, despite outnumbering him three to one. The rifle went off, so did the banks alarms. Panicked, the robbers ran away, still being shot at by the guard and his trusty rifle.
Soon, the local police chief arrived. He immediately recognized the robbers’ car and said he knew who they were. In total, these ‘robbers’ were down a car on the whole episode.
Why is all this relevant? Because, even over 10 years later, I remember the thrill, adrenalin and excitement of those few minutes. The shots, the conflict, the way everything seemed to happen so quickly. And the need to record it and tell others.
Now, more people around the world are feeling that same sensation.
More people are picking up their modern day version of pens and pads and reporting from conflict or war zones.
The availability, simplicity and relative cheap cost of getting information out to a global audience is changing how messages come out of these zones.
Now everyone is a reporter - if they want to be.
And that includes soldiers. They increasingly file videos or blog entries from the heart of the action. And websites, such as liveleak.com, are becoming heavens for this kind of content.
In this edition of NATO Review, we have an array of people who have seen these media developments first hand.
An award winning Afghan blogger tell us how he, and his country, have benefited from the extra freedom new media provides.
We hear from two ex-soldiers who are now journalists, and often work in war zones.
One of NATO’s staff gives a perceptive personal account of how far media freedom and techniques have developed since his time as a journalist on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
And in our first video debate, we get views from both sides (new media and military) on whether this new development can help or hinder those fighting in conflicts.
Managing messages, use of new media and how the military deal with this is a moving target. There are no easy answers. But what is clear is that, unlike those incompetent bank robbers, this subject is not going to disappear quickly.