Insight, wit and analysis as BBC correspondents, journalists and writers take a closer look at the stories behind the headlines. Presented by Kate Adie and Pascale Harter.
Serbia and Djokovic: More Than a Matter of Tennis
When Novak Djokovic landed in Melbourne, few could have imagined that his impending encounters on the tennis court would be upstaged by a legal battle, one which then prompted a row between his country and Australia. After immigration officials held the Serb player in a hotel, Djokovic’s father said his son was being “crucified”. Then Serbia’s Foreign Ministry claimed that the player had been deliberately lured to Australia in order to humiliate him, as part of a “political game.” Guy Delauney explains that the affair has touched a raw nerve in Serbia, with an importance way beyond the tennis court.
While the war of words was going on between Serbia and Australia, the government of Cameroon was trying to keep everyone’s attention focused on sport, and not on politics. The country is hosting the Africa-wide football tournament, the Africa Cup of Nations, a chance for the country to shine on the international stage. Like any contest, the Cup provides an opportunity for all countries to unite and rally behind their national team. However, there is a distinct shortage of unity among some people of this West African nation. Cameroon has suffered a long-running separatist insurgency in the English-speaking part of the country, and that was where James Copnall went to watch one of the games.
You might think Ukraine was used to conflict; it suffered some of the worst casualties of the Second World War, and previously lost millions to murder and starvation, as Stalin imposed communist rule on a population which often resisted it. Today, around a hundred thousand Russian troops are massed on the Ukrainian border, and when Zeinab Badawi visited the capital Kiev, she found a very different mood to what she experienced on previous trips.
What have sectarian murders in Northern Ireland got in common with the dawn of democracy in Czechoslovakia, and the start of negotiations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions? The answer is that all of them were reported on by Mary Hockaday, whose career of more than three decades at the BBC has just come to an end. Her departure has left her reflecting on time, and how the world changes with it.
The housing market has been rather perky this past year, so it might be a good time to sell your home, but not if you’re a princess, you don’t actually want to move out, and the property in question is a Seventeenth Century palace. Such though is the fate of one of Rome’s more unusual inhabitants, living in one of the city’s more distinctive buildings. The Villa Aurora will go under the auctioneer’s hammer next week, and is valued at more than four hundred million pounds. David Willey has been a regular visitor
Uncovering China's Internet Trolls
Plenty of journalists have had the experience of being “trolled” – attacked on social media for what they have written or said, often in terms which can be both offensive and sometimes frightening. Tessa Wong was trolled after reporting on China, but rather than simply accepting the abuse, she tried to find out why so many people had launched these attacks. What she found was that some of them were not the spontaneous outbursts of outraged citizens which they might have appeared. Rather it seems that key social media political influencers are being encouraged in their work by the Chinese authorities.
It should have been a fairly straight-forward task for our reporter in the Seychelles, Patrick Muirhead. A financial scandal has hit the island nation, and various high profile people have been accused of taking money intended for its citizens. Patrick was in court to cover the proceedings, and was also offered the chance to interview the Seychelles’ President about the affair. However, this is a small country, and he was on first name terms with both the President, and with some of those in the dock. He admits, it was quite a challenge to report on the story with detachment.
2022 has started with some speculating that this could be the year in which Covid is beaten – not that the virus will disappear completely, but that it might become endemic, and certainly not killing people on anything like the scale seen so far. Yet even if by some miracle the Coronavirus were to vanish altogether, the effects of these past two years will be with us for a long time. In Peru, for example, tens of thousands of children have lost parents to Covid, and this in a country which already suffers from widespread poverty. As Jane Chambers explains, the death of a family breadwinner can leave children facing terrible hardship, along with the grief.
Meeting a rebel leader can be difficult at the best of times, but particularly so if that leader is under arrest. Joshua Craze, was on the trail of General Simon Gatwich, from one of the factions which has been fighting in South Sudan. The country broke away from Sudan following a long battle for independence, but then itself split into different factions. Although a peace agreement has been reached, it’s considered a fragile one. General Gatwich headed north, to Sudan itself, so Joshua Craze tried to find out what exactly he was up to there.
History has seen many symbolic acts of resistance: banging saucepans, for example, was an expression of rebellion in revolutionary France, and was more recently taken up by protestors in Latin America. Pro-democracy campaigners in Thailand and Myanmar, meanwhile, have taken to given a three finger salute, taken from the film, The Hunger Games. But there is another historical act of rebellion which might have passed you by: eating cake. That is what people in Denmark did for more than a century, as Amy Guttman explains.
2022: A Year of Recovery?
What are you hoping for in the twelve months ahead? What might you be fearing? These are questions which we often ask ourselves at this time of year, and yet it is hard to imagine a year when they have felt quite so pressing. In this special, New Year’s Day edition of From Our Own Correspondent, we hear about sentiment both optimistic and pessimistic, and about the efforts people are making to rebuild after a year of loss. Plus there is a look at why many people seem to be optimistic, whatever the challenges ahead.
2021 saw terrible, weather-related destruction, which many blamed on climate change. In California, more than eight thousand major fires broke out, their number and intensity a marked increase on what is normally seen there. Justin Rowlatt witnessed the resulting devastation, but says that amidst the burned out ruins, people were still holding out hope of recovery and reconstruction.
There was plenty of destruction in 2021 that did not come from nature, war continuing to take its toll in many parts of the world. Ethiopia and Yemen were perhaps the worst examples, but there were also small-scale conflicts, like the insurgency in Myanmar. Then there were the conflicts which never really went away, like that between Israel and the Palestinians. An exchange of rocket fire with Gaza back in May, along with Israeli airstrikes, left more than two hundred dead, the overwhelming majority on the Palestinian side. When Tom Bateman went to Gaza, he met a woman trying to restart her life as a sculptor.
The Coronavirus has been described as offering a lesson in humility, a challenge to our belief in humanity’s power to control and manage the world around us. This tiny, sub-microscopic string of rogue DNA, has led to death on a scale most will not have experienced in their lifetime. At the same time though, vaccines and anti-viral drugs have been developed in response to Covid, which use new technologies that promise cures for other diseases in future. Rajini Vaidyanathan saw some of the worst of Covid, reporting from India where hundreds of thousands died, perhaps more than a million. But while off duty recently, she found herself struck by the effects of one individual death, in a place very familiar to her.
People often talk about climate change in terms of future trouble ahead: rising sea levels, and crops no longer able to thrive. In the Pacific island nation of Fiji, whole villages have already had to be evacuated, because of current weather conditions, and what that weather is expected to do in the years ahead. Many Fijians traditionally have a strong attachment to the land they live on, so moving from their homes presents a challenge that goes way beyond mere inconvenience. When Megha Mohan visited, she found local people trying hard to retain a sense of connection to their original homes.
Despite Covid, climate change, and all the other challenges which humanity faces, many remain optimistic that normal life can continue or be restored, or perhaps that something new, and better can emerge from the ashes of the old. In fact, according to Marnie Chesterton, most people are predisposed to have an optimistic outlook, and to believe there are solutions to the challenges we face.
Turkey's Cost of Living CrisisTurkey's Cost of Living Crisis
What is it like to spend years saving up your money, and then watch as its value rapidly declines? Or to have a pension which no longer pays for even your basic needs? Inflation in Turkey is soaring, with some estimates putting the annual rate at fifty percent. The Covid pandemic has meant that prices are rising around the world, but Turkey's particularly high figure has led some to blame the unorthodox economic policies of the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ayla Jean Yackley visited an Istanbul market to hear more.
When our correspondent in Colombia contracted Covid, he assumed he would get the medical treatment he needed; after all, he did have health insurance. However, that was not how it turned out, and in the process, Matthew Charles got a first-hand picture of how things work in the Colombian healthcare system: who gets the help they need, and why it is they who get it.
Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, has a problem with street prostitution, in the sense that prostitutes and clients sometimes have sex actually in the street, or else they end up going back to the client's homes, where the women may not be safe. As a way of tackling this, the city’s sex workers are now being offered a new place to see their clients: in the back of a van. Linda Pressly was invited to see how this works.
Conspiracy theorists are hard to argue with, as any fact offered to challenge their world view can be dismissed as a lie of the mainstream media. So when Stephanie Hegarty travelled to the US to meet adherents of the “QAnon” theory, she did not expect to change their minds. These are people who believe there is an international, underground sex ring, linked to senior world leaders with a secret fondness for worshipping the devil. However, she was surprised at the details of QAnon beliefs, and the tenacity with which supporters cling to them.
We are all probably aware of the lasting effect that children’s books can have. Stories discovered in our early years may stay with us for the rest of our lives, so too the pictures and plots. Our Paris Correspondent, Hugh Schofield has long held a candle for Caroline, the bold little girl who featured in a long-running series of French children's books dating back to the 1950s. So it was a great surprise when he had the chance to actually meet her.
Madagascar: The Threat of Starvation
Madagascar is the second largest island nation in the world, yet quietly, largely unreported, its people are falling into starvation. 1.3 million are already suffering what’s called “severe food insecurity,” with the United Nations warning of worse to come. The World Food Programme says climate change is at the root of the problem, while others blame poverty and government mismanagement. Catherine Byaruhanga visited the stricken villages.
They are still finding dead bodies on the borderland between Poland and Belarus, a few of the thousands who tried to cross over, most of them originally from the Middle East. Poland was accused of breaking international law when it refused to let them in. and at least a dozen died from hypothermia while trapped between the two countries. Lucy Ash has found that the crisis also left some of the border guards themselves suffering psychological damage, from what proved to be a traumatic experience.
It is never great to lose an election, particularly if you happen to be in power at the time. However, the President of Honduras faces a more serious reversal of fortune than most politicians. Juan Orlando Hernandez was not actually on the ballot paper, but one of his political allies was, and he lost. This means not only will Mr Hernandez leave the Presidential Palace, he may also be extradited to the United States on drugs charges, as he no longer enjoys the protection of public office. Meanwhile the woman who won the election is promising a fresh start for the country, prompting wild celebrations, which Will Grant was there to see.
Keeping children safe from Covid has been a major challenge throughout the pandemic, but that does not just mean protecting them from the disease itself; relatively few get seriously ill from the Coronavirus. The question for many has been how to keep children's lives as normal as possible - continuing their education, and bringing them up in an era where parents are at home instead of going out to work, where people wear masks, and many are dying. Laura Trevelyan has three children who she’s raising in New York, and has been looking at the pandemic's effect on them and their fellow junior New Yorkers.
Plenty of people have pointless items stuck in an attic, or at the back of a cupboard, things they know deep down they will never use, and rarely even look at, yet somehow cannot throw away. Colin Freeman has spent the past couple of decades working as a foreign correspondent, and those years of roaming the globe have left him with some highly unusual keepsakes.
Sleepless in Seoul: South Korea’s Exhausted Workforce
This year's surprise international television success is the dystopian South Korean series, Squid Game, which imagines people competing in a series of ever more violent contests, hundreds dying along the way. The show is a shameless satire on the cut-throat competitiveness of ordinary South Korean life; some characters explicitly state they are taking part in the tournament because it is no worse than how they were living anyway. When Chloe Hadjimatheou went to South Korea recently, she could see what the programme’s creators were getting at.
It is not just the death toll in Ethiopia that is so disturbing but also the manner by which many people are dying: civilians have been murdered in ethnically-based violence, while others have starved. Both sides have accused the other of committing atrocities, while denying any carried out by their own people. This war-of-words is being played out on social media with just as much fervour as the physical war on the ground. Our correspondent, Andrew Harding, found himself caught in the middle.
Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme were never going to be easy, but the two sides cannot even agree how to start. China, Russia, the UK and US are among those with teams in Vienna, hoping to persuade Iran to stop what they believe is an attempt to develop nuclear weapons. That would mean they cease enriching uranium towards the level required to make a warhead or bomb. However, the Iranians don't want to discuss this until sanctions imposed on their country are lifted. James Landale warns this presents a serious challenge to the chances of a deal being reached.
Nobody is sure who first came up with the suggestion that one could “See Naples and die.” Nor is it even clear whether that counts as a recommendation or a warning. But if the quote caught on, that is perhaps because it sums up the dark associations many have with the biggest city in Italy’s deep south: less economically developed than its northern counterparts, and affected by all kinds of travails, from earthquakes to mafia violence. The neighbourhood of Sanita is among the city's most deprived, but locals have used a famous church there as the centre for a whole series of regeneration programmes. Mark Stratton was shown around.
There are still question marks over how Christmas will be celebrated this year – whether new restrictions might need to be imposed, because of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus, or even a lockdown. In some countries though, it was already clear long ago that the Christmas period would provide little opportunity for celebrating. In Venezuela, three quarters of the population are now living in extreme poverty, living on less than two pounds a day. Yet as Katy Watson explains, Venezuelans do really like Christmas, and are making greats effort to mark the festive season, even with their circumstances so straitened.