Foreign Correspondent

Feature article related to this week’s episode

Upcoming special announced today.

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The ABC today appointed Four Corners supervising producer Morag Ramsay as the new executive producer of Foreign Correspondent. She replaces current EP Matthew Carney, who is moving to Four Corners as its executive producer.

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Becoming Putin

Thursday 2 June 8:00 PM

He started as a low-level spy. He ended up president for life. For two decades, former Moscow correspondent Eric Campbell has tracked Putin’s rise to power, speaking with his school teacher, friends, patrons and enemies.

When Russian President Boris Yeltsin appointed a little-known spy chief as his Prime Minister and successor in 1999, the rouble crashed. Nobody had heard of this former KGB agent and few believed he would make any mark.

Vladimir Putin would soon show Russians, and the world, what he was made of.

Within weeks of his appointment as Prime Minister, apartment blocks in Moscow and other cities began exploding, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians. The Kremlin blamed Chechen separatists and soon launched a brutal war against the tiny state.

The war resulted in huge civilian casualties but it raised Putin’s profile at home. Months later, he was elected president.

Correspondent Eric Campbell was in Russia when Putin began his rise to power and has followed his career ever since.

Campbell tracks Putin’s ascent to power, from his origins in an impoverished tenement in St Petersburg to his ruthless prosecution of the war against Chechnya to his relentless attacks on any political opposition at home.

Campbell has closely chronicled Putin for over two decades as the leader set about muzzling the media, rigging elections and targeting his political opponents, at home and abroad.

Now as the President-for-life invades neighbouring Ukraine and threatens the world with the nuclear option, Campbell asks, how far will he go?

This is an in-depth profile of a man who’s smashed the world order and dared the West to risk World War Three to stop him.

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Watch Becoming Putin on Foreign Correspondent, Thursday 2 June on ABC TV and iview, or streaming live on Facebook and YouTube.

After this episode, the show will go into repeat mode from 9 June.

This Thursday (June 9) the show will revisit the Secrets and Lies episode (first aired in September 2019), presented by Lisa Millar.

30th Anniversary Special

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Thursday 28 July 8.00pm

Foreign Correspondent celebrates its 30ᵗʰ year on air with a one-hour special chronicling the extraordinary changes that have transformed our world over the past three decades.

From stories about revolution and war, terrorism and survival, desperation and inspiration, we’ll
be delving deep into our rich archive to bring you our most compelling stories about the people and the forces shaping our world.

We’ll talk to our correspondents, past and present, about being on the ground as they reported history in the making including Eric Campbell, Lisa Millar, Tony Jones, Jennifer Byrne, Mark Corcoran, Sally Neighbour, Matthew Carney and Deborah Snow as well as founding executive producer Jonathan Holmes.

Through this tumultuous 30 years, Foreign Correspondent has been Australia’s window on the world. Our stories have followed the disintegration of the Soviet empire and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, to China’s astonishing social and economic transformation and the emergence of climate change as a powerful force likely to shape the 21ˢᵗ century.

With Putin’s shocking invasion of Ukraine and the rising power of China in our region, Australian audiences are hungrier than ever for in-depth, on-the-ground reporting to help them understand what’s happening and why and most of all, to hear the human stories behind global events. Production credit: Executive Producer: Lisa McGregor. Producer: Deborah Richards.

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Season returns Thursday 4 August.

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Update:

A Wild Ride

Foreign Correspondent is celebrating its 30th year on ABC TV with A Wild Ride - a one-hour special which will chronicle the extraordinary changes that have shaped today’s world.

The program will feature some of our most powerful stories from the past three decades. On revolution and war, tragedy and survival, terror and hope.

We’ll talk to our correspondents, past and present, about being on the ground as they reported history in the making including Eric Campbell, Lisa Millar, Tony Jones, Jennifer Byrne, Mark Corcoran, Sally Neighbour, David Lipson and Deborah Snow, as well as founding executive producer Jonathan Holmes.

The ABC created the show in 1992, three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It was the start of 30 tumultuous years.

As the Soviet empire disintegrated, Foreign Correspondent was there to cover the ethnic and religious conflicts that erupted across eastern Europe, and political upheaval inside the former Soviet states.

Across Asia, we reported on the people power movements which challenged and toppled dictatorships.

As the new millennium dawned, the challenges rolled in.

Foreign Correspondent was there to report on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the ‘War on Terror’. And to analyse it for an Australian public desperate for answers.

From all around the globe we revealed the growing threat of climate change, a powerful force that is set to define the 21st century.

And we charted the rise of China, with its incredible social and economic transformation, building an archive of stories few broadcasters can match.

We tracked the rise of populist leader Donald Trump, his ‘Make America Great Again’ movement built on the deep divisions within the United States of America.

And we covered the increasing authoritarianism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his brutal invasion of Ukraine, a sign of his Tsar-like ambitions to recreate the old Russian empire.

Australian audiences are hungrier than ever for in-depth, on-the-ground reporting to help them understand what’s happening and why and to hear the human stories behind global events.

That’s our mission.

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Watch A Wild Ride on Foreign Correspondent, Thursday 28th of July at 8pm on ABC TV, iview, Facebook and YouTube.

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With the 30th Anniversary a few of the former Foreign Corespondents will come in and speak to Joe O’Brien on ABC News channel. Today Samantha Hawley was the first guest this morning.

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Taking Up Alms

Thursday 4 August 8:00 PM

Across Thailand a quiet revolution is underway.

Hundreds of women are defying generations of Thai tradition and ordaining as Theravada Buddhist monks.

“Woman can do it too, not only man. Men can say anything they want, but if woman decide to do it, just go for it. Nothing going to stop you.” - Achara Ratanakasin, novice monk candidate.

Under the current rules in Thailand, only men are officially able to be ordained as monks. For women, it’s forbidden.

The governing body for monks, the Supreme Sangha Council, maintains that women can’t be ordained because female monks never existed in Thailand.

“The monk’s law doesn’t endorse them. Therefore, they can’t be ordained. If they are ordained, it is considered an offense to Buddha.” - Phra Thamkittimetee, Buddhist Protection Society of Thailand.

At the forefront of this growing movement in Thailand is the Venerable Dhammananda. In 2003, the former academic became the country’s first Theravada Buddhist female monk but to be ordained, she had to travel to Sri Lanka.

“We are asking for ordination, you are not giving it to us, that’s fine. So we go somewhere else.” - Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni.

As the Abbess of Thailand’s first all-female monastery, she’s now offering temporary ordination to other women.

In this moving episode of Foreign Correspondent, Southeast Asia correspondent Mazoe Ford follows two Thai women as they embark on a deeply spiritual quest to reclaim the saffron robe.

“A new chapter is about to begin … it’s probably the only thing that I believe that can make me a better person.” - Wanida ‘Anne’ Lertpanyawai, novice monk candidate.

“I keep telling them, you are part of this movement that is going to be written down in history… we are on the right side of history.” - Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni.

Watch Taking Up Alms on Foreign Correspondent on Thursday the 4th of August at 8pm on ABC TV, iview, YouTube and Facebook.

Taking on Trump

Thursday 11 August 8:00 PM

Wyoming is the most pro-Trump state in the country. And respected Republican Liz Cheney is about to find out what that means.

“The people of Wyoming are going to tell Liz Cheney ‘You’re fired, get the hell out of here, get out of here’”, says the former president.

Ms Cheney, who represents Wyoming in Congress, is the embodiment of the Republican establishment. The daughter of the former US Vice President Dick Cheney, she rose to be the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress and is famously conservative.

Despite consistently backing Trump in office, she’s now one of his staunchest critics, attacking him for refusing to concede defeat in the 2020 election, and for his actions on January 6.

“I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible. There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone but your dishonour will remain.”

As she seeks her party’s nomination for a 4th term in Congress, Donald Trump is going all out to stop her, endorsing and campaigning for another candidate, who’s also switched sides.

Harriet Hageman was a “Never Trumper” who tried to stop his run for the presidency in 2016. Now she enjoys his support and campaigns on his record. And the polls show its working.

Cheney’s stance on Trump has divided Republicans in Wyoming, angering many, leading to death threats.

“It’s a battle between the Trump Republican Party and the Republican Party of the past”, says Mary Kay Turner, a Cheney family friend. “It’s dividing the community terribly.”

Former Washington bureau chief Kathryn Diss travels through the vast and spectacular wilderness of the Cowboy State to talk with locals about the upcoming primary elections.

Many feel Cheney’s role in the January 6 hearings has distracted her from local issues.

“She’s been focused completely on the January 6 commission when people here are worried about the price of food at the grocery store, the price of gas at the gas pump”, says local state politician Cheri Steinmetz.

“Most of her time is being spent trying to convict Donald Trump.”

But loyalists support her principled stand.

“I would be so sorry to see someone like Liz Cheney lose because it’s more than Liz Cheney that loses. We lose a lot of Republicans like her…that care a great deal for our country,” says Mary Kay Turner.

Diss also heads to Washington to speak with leading Democrat congressman Jamie Raskin who’s sitting alongside Liz Cheney on the January 6 Committee.

He says the stakes for the US couldn’t be higher.

“I want to make sure that American democracy survives and that proposition is at odds with Donald Trump ever getting anywhere near the White House.”

Myanmar’s Forgotten War

Thursday 18 August 8:00 PM

In a remote corner of north western Myanmar, a civil war you’ve never heard of is underway.

The people of the Chin State are locked in a deadly conflict with Myanmar’s ruthless military machine – the Tatmadaw.

Crossing into Myanmar from northeast India, reporter Matt Davis has gained exclusive access to the Chin resistance.

As he travels across rivers and on mountain passes, he meets the people who’ve given up everything to fight Myanmar’s military junta.

Living in jungle camps and makeshift villages, students and farmers, doctors and engineers are organising into civilian defence units to defeat the Tatmadaw. The region has seen some of the heaviest fighting yet in the 18-month-long civil war.

Davis spends time with 28-year-old Cung, an agricultural worker who joined the Chin Defence Forces 18 months ago. He’s now the Commander in Chief of his battalion. Armed with little more than single-shot rifles and homemade explosives, he and his young fighters have transformed into a fearsome guerrilla force.

“This is our land, this is our place,” he says. “They can’t defeat us, the only thing they can do is burn our homes, our churches. We hunt them like wolves.”

Davis travels close to the centre of the current conflict, the strategic hillside town of Thantlang, recently taken by the Tatmadaw. Its 12000 residents have fled.

In a hilltop hospital, not far from Thantlang, a young Chin doctor, Dr Amos, and his wife Rebecca, a nurse, struggle to care for the wounded.

“The hardest bit has been getting medicines and operating equipment,” says Dr Amos.

Nearby, Davis meets 16-year-old Emily. Before Thantlang was taken, she was a high school student. Now she’s a refugee in her own country, her life on pause.

She hasn’t seen her school friends in months. “I miss them so much,” she says. “I am alone.”

The Chin people are begging for the international community to help them. They want sanctions imposed against the Tatmadaw and weapons supplies.

But with the war in Ukraine occupying the headlines, Myanmar’s bitter civil war has been overlooked.

Dr Sui Khar, a leader of the Chin National Front, says the Chin will not give up.

“Under this military dictatorship … the youth have already convinced themselves that their future is nothing,” he says. “That’s why this is the once and for all war, to eliminate this military dictatorship.”

This powerful film shines a light on a forgotten conflict.

Poacher’s Paradise

Thursday 25 August 8:00 PM

This episode was produced in association with European culture channel Arte.

The oceans off the coast of West Africa once teemed with fish. Millions relied on these plentiful stocks for their livelihoods.

Now this rich resource is being plundered by foreign vessels, fishing illegally.

These large trawlers can scoop up more fish in a week than the small, local boats do in a year.

Off the north coast of Senegal, locals like Yague once made a good living catching fish.

“They used to swim up to us. We were wealthy, but ever since these many industrial vessels came, the fish started to disappear”, he says.

Local fishermen, working out of small hand-crafted boats called pirogues, can’t compete.

‘It’s a race against these industrial vessels. If they notice us, they head right for us to take our catch from us. They destroy our nets”, says Yague. “They usually also ram our pirogues, so the only thing we collect at the end of the day are our destroyed pirogues.”

It’s a similar story up and down the coast – Liberia, the Ivory Coast, even as far south as Gabon.

“Hundreds of years ago, European countries came to the African continent to steal people from these shores”, says Captain Peter Hammarstedt from environmental group, Sea Shepherd.

“Now foreign fishing fleets have come to plunder fish.”

Among the biggest offenders are Chinese-owned vessels. Captain Hammarstedt says around 800 Chinese vessels operate regularly off the coast of West Africa.

Working with European broadcaster Arte, we visit the communities whose livelihoods are under threat from these foreign trawlers. And we meet the activists helping them fight back.

In Senegal, the locals are fed up with government inaction. Fisherman Mamadou Sarr, with the help of activist group Greenpeace, is organising night-time sea patrols so they can report illegal fishing to the authorities in the hope they’ll take action.

“We must be more active. If we don’t do anything, there won’t be any more fish in Senegal soon.”

In Liberia, the army is working with Sea Shepherd to patrol the seas and detain ships fishing illegally.

“Those vessels knew that the Liberian coast guard didn’t have the capability to go deep into the water, so they took advantage, and came to fish”, says General George, the deputy chief of staff of the Liberian Armed Forces.

“It was time to act, because our local fishermen were going to be completely out of business.”

Illegal fishing in Liberia has dropped dramatically but constant vigilance is required.

“We have to stay on top of the poaching problem. If the patrols stop, it’s very likely that the illegal fishing problem comes back.” Captain Hammarstedt

Duty of Care

Thursday 1 September at 8:00PM

Zhen remembers her wedding day well. When her father gave his speech, he urged her to have two children. But now Zhen is unsure whether she even wants to have one.

Not long after her wedding, Zhen’s father Liang was diagnosed with dementia. He was in his 50s. Now Zhen and her mother are caring for Liang full time. And Zhen doesn’t want to impose that burden on her children.

“The way I see it,” Zhen explains, “without kids, if I develop the same condition as my dad, with what I know now, I can just send myself off to a nursing home and it’s done. I won’t put any extra pressure on my kids, and they won’t have to endure any depression or anything like that.”

It’s a problem many families in China are grappling with. As the population ages, dementia is on the rise. But there’s little awareness of the disease and few government services.

In Australia, around 65% of patients with dementia live at home but in China more than 96% of people with the condition are looked after by their families. The obligation to care for your elders is deeply rooted in Chinese culture.

“That’s probably the traditional Chinese concept of filial piety, but the reality is you can’t fulfill your duty,” says Zhen.

ABC reporter Lydia Feng presents this intimate and moving program about China’s hidden epidemic.

Working with local filmmakers, we take you inside three families stretched to the limit as they do their best to look after a loved one with dementia.

We meet a widow and daughter living in the countryside, where there are even fewer services for the elderly and their families.

We spend time with a blind couple in Beijing, where despite all hardships, Uncle Xing is still utterly devoted to his wife of nearly 50 years.

“I’ve looked after only one woman my whole life. She needs special care,” says Uncle Xing. “I feel bad if she suffers.”

“We’re not ready. We’re not even prepared for the challenge of aged care as a whole, let alone dementia care,” says social worker Wang Shihong, whose organisation helps support the elderly.

Shihong believes the public needs to be educated about the problem.

“The symptoms are showing up but they’re not taken as something that needs medical attention,” she says. “If it can be spotted early in its development, through screening for example, more can be done to slow the patient’s deterioration before it’s too late.”

This film is a unique insight into the struggle of ordinary families in China to deal with a debilitating but little understood condition.

Watch Duty of Care on Foreign Correspondent Thursday 1 September at 8pm on ABC TV, iview, Facebook and YouTube.

The Vanishing River

Thursday 2 September at 8:00PM

The once mighty Colorado River is in trouble. Stretching from the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains all the way down to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, its waters are a lifeline to tens of millions of people.

But the pressures of the decades-long megadrought in America’s Southwest and a warming planet mean the water levels in the river and its dams are dropping.

“I’m not going to say it’s too late, but we are in true crisis,” says renowned river scientist, Professor Jack Schmidt.

The pressures on the river are largely man-made.

The building of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s tamed the waters of this once wild river, harnessing its flows to produce hydropower and feed a massive agricultural industry across the Southwest.

But the water was over allocated from the start. Now as dam levels drop to their lowest ever, the survival of farms and industries is in question.

“I feel every day of my life that my son will not be able to share in this magnificence … and the beauty of this profession,” says Jace Miller, an Arizona farmer of five generations.

He grows feed for livestock, but next year, his water allocation will be cut to zero.

US correspondent Barbara Miller travels along this spectacular river to meet the communities whose livelihoods depend on it.

Miller rafts down the Colorado rapids with the Native American tribe for whom the Colorado provides a vital source of tourist revenue.

She visits the thriving desert city of Las Vegas, which has become a US leader in urban water conservation, offering lessons for Australian cities.

And there’s a silver lining. As waters in the dam reservoirs recede, natural wonders which were flooded decades ago are emerging.

“We’re seeing this flowing waterfall and this trickling creek. We’re seeing the vegetation start to come back,” says environmentalist Eric Balken.

The state of this vanishing river is a wake-up call for all those who depend on it.

“We pretended the Colorado River is just a check account,” says Prof Schmidt. “There are gonna be limits … and we’re gonna have to deal with them.”

Watch The Vanishing River on Foreign Correspondent, 8pm Thursday the 8th of September on ABC TV, iview, Facebook and YouTube.

No Surrender: Inside Sri Lanka’s Uprising

Thursday 15 September at 8:00 PM

For Sri Lanka’s protest movement, it felt like victory. After months of escalating actions, protestors stormed the Presidential palace and occupied its grounds. Some even partied in the pool and stretched out in the president’s four-poster bed.

That evening, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and later resigned.

25-year-old IT technician, Wimukthi Ranasinghe, was one of the protestors caught up in the day’s excitement. He livestreamed from inside the palace, picking up millions of followers worldwide.

Today, Wimukthi is on bail, facing charges of inciting violence that could land him in jail.

“I’m worried about what’ll happen to him in the future,” says his mother. “When we hear all these horror stories about what’s happening to people, we’ve told him he can’t even go to the local shop now on his own.”

Many protestors are now living in fear.

Under the new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, there’s been a crackdown on protest action. Some of the movement’s leaders have gone into hiding. Others have been charged and detained under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

For months, South Asia correspondent Avani Dias, has been charting the unrest in Sri Lanka. Now, she’s captured the crackdown in full swing.

She meets leaders in hiding from police, following them as they re-emerge and take the risk of organising fresh protests.

One is the defiant student leader, Wasanthe Mudalige, who plays cat-and-mouse with the police.

“The person who has claimed the throne does not have the mandate of the people,” he claims. “The police are doing this because they’re scared.”

Dias spends time with families grappling with how to protect their children caught up in the crackdown.

As tensions in Colombo rise and the police presence grows, Dias interviews the new president, Wickremesinghe.

“We arrest people who broke the law,” says the 45-year-veteran politician and former lawyer. “Everything has been done legally.”

The next day Dias and her crew are stopped and searched twice by authorities, on the hunt for protest leaders like Wasantha.

As major protests unfold, Dias captures incredible scenes as police and protestors clash.

No Surrender takes viewers inside the movement that brought down one president and isn’t stopping now.

France’s War on Drugs

Thursday 22 September at 8:00 PM

This week’s episode is from French broadcaster M6.

The French port city of Marseille is caught up in a dangerous drugs war.

Fuelled by big profits, rival gangs have gone to war with each other and with police.

The gangs have access to powerful weapons, and that means people are dying.

The dealers operate out of the housing estates on the city’s outskirts, where they’ve set up sophisticated and lucrative networks, selling cocaine, cannabis and MDMA.

‘We’re just traders’, says one gang boss. “Our mothers…they can’t even pay the rent so they can’t even support us. We have to do all this alone.”

In this dramatic and confronting documentary, French broadcaster M6 gains rare, inside access to the police’s elite drug squad as it tries to bust open the drug trade.

The cameras capture the high-risk operations as heavily armed police units raid the estates, arrest the dealers and confiscate their stash.

The French filmmakers also gain access to the drug gangs who explain their hierarchical structure, from the teenagers who act as lookouts at the estates’ entrances to the managers who oversee the street dealers.

“It’s a business, everyone has a role to play,” says one organiser.

The gang members also reveal that threats from rival gangs means they need to be armed.

“Always keep something aside, in case they want to attack,” says one organiser.

“Between Marseille and the Kalashnikov, it’s always been a love story. Every problem has a solution. And with a Kalashnikov, the solution is quick.”

Watch France’s War on Drugs this Thursday 22 September at 8pm on ABC TV, iview, Facebook and YouTube.