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Australia's leading international affairs program featuring fascinating, in-depth stories from the ABC's unrivalled network of foreign correspondents.

Genres: Interview | Current Events | Travel
Station: ABC (AU)
Rating: 0/10 from 0 users
Status: Running
Start: 2008-02-05

Foreign Correspondent Season 2019 Air Dates


S2019E01 - Man v Wild Air Date: 08 January 2019 09:00 -

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Man vs Wild – a vivid illustration of development colliding with nature.

In India's far east, wild elephants are in deadly, daily conflict with people. Siobhan Heanue follows the clashes as roaming herds get squeezed by shrinking forests and a growing human population.

Our Indian cameraman Gurmeet saw the attack as he fled…

"I saw a cloud of dust, one elephant charging over one man, and that man got under the feet of the elephant. We thought ‘this dude is dead'"

The man under the elephant was our local guide, Sanu. Amazingly he survived, with just a few scratches.

"My feet slipped… the elephant hit me. I'm lucky, or I'd be dead by now," Sanu explains to his wife. "Why were you such a show-off?" she snaps.

Danger is ever-present in Assam state in India's north east, where 6000 elephants live among 30 million people. The animals' forest habitat is being sliced up for new rice paddies, tea plantations, roads and villages. Their old migratory trails, up to 1000 kilometres long, are strewn with man-made obstacles.

So the big herds are hemmed in, with nowhere to go. They raid villages and crops for food. They kill and terrify local people. Last year in Assam state alone, elephants killed at least 64 people.

Elephants are sacred in India and evoke the image of the popular Hindu deity Ganesh. But patience is thin among farmers when entire rice harvests are destroyed.

"Yes, they're hungry but we're hungry too," says Sharayan Bodo, who guards his crop at night armed with a crude spear. "Lord Ganesh is a god, but elephants are not."

As correspondent Siobhan Heanue discovers, the elephants are taunted nearly everywhere they go as crowds of locals pelt them with rocks, firecrackers and shot pellets. Sometimes they move on, as intended. Sometimes they attack.

"I'm still shaking from the noise and ferocity of something that big coming towards you," says Heanue, after fleeing an angry female elephant which had been separated from her calf.

"Due to the encounters with humans, the elephants have changed their behaviour," says conservationist and filmmaker Rita Banarji. "They are more aggressive than they used to be."

Despite the conflict and a recent fall in India's elephant population, Banarji is determinedly optimistic. She sees a "win-win situation" ahead and sets out how to strike a delicate balance between the needs of people and those of the giants that roam among them.


S2019E02 - Walk In Their Shoes Air Date: 15 January 2019 09:00 -

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Walk In Their Shoes

Rarely does America see anything like this - a huge press of humanity streaming through Mexico, dreaming of life across the US border. Donald Trump, his administration paralysed over the $8 billion wall he needs to shut them out, calls them invaders.

So who are these people and what are they fleeing?

They've killed most of my family - my dad, my brother. We're running. Only God is with us – Tatyana, on the gang violence in her homeland Honduras

Now Tatyana and the other migrants have been warned, by none less than President Trump, that they risk being shot by US agents if they push too hard at the border.

She and her husband Ruben, with their two small children and another well on the way, press on.

I'm prepared to die trying to make a better future for my family - Ruben

Daniel, 13, is risking his life to buy a future. He is estranged from his mother, who sells drugs for a gang back home in El Salvador. His only choice there, he says, was to join a gang or run.

Too much violence and drugs, they kill you for nothing. I need to study, just study – Daniel

On the long road, rumours swirl.

I heard that the president will open the doors for us – Victor, a teenager from El Salvador

Over several weeks Foreign Correspondent follows the halting progress of two migrant caravans – one from Honduras, one from El Salvador – as they slowly wend their way through Mexico.

Most migrants say they are fleeing gang violence. Now they face a kidnap and murder threat from drug cartels as they make their way up La Ruta de la Muerte, or "Road of Death".

Constant movement equals constant fatigue. At 5 am a weary mother rouses her teary child when it's time to move again: Let's go, let's go -- No, no I don't want to, I want to stay here on my own!

Some give up on their American dream and turn back home.

We have come this far for nothing – Honduran man

But when Eric Campbell catches up with the thousands of migrants massing in Tijuana, near the US border, he finds that for a lucky few, fortune has swung their way.


S2019E03 - Vanilla Slice Air Date: 22 January 2019 09:00 -

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Behind our craving for vanilla-flavoured ice cream, cakes and chocolate, or for vanilla-scented perfumes, there's a rattling tale of fast money, skulduggery and the precarious fate of an iconic animal.

A few years ago, the humble vanilla bean sold for $80 a kilo. Now it's $800. In vividly beautiful, dirt-poor Madagascar, supplier of most of the world's vanilla, that means good times roll.

Vanilla is the best, vanilla is the crazy money. No income better in Madagascar - and I think the world! – Yockno, who is swapping tour guiding for vanilla farming.

By day, Prisco is a hustler who buys and sells vanilla in the street. By night, in a seedy bar, he sings of his love for the bean, and what it can get him…

Girl, come and weigh the vanilla, there's enough for whatever you want! – Prisco's song lyric

Prisco is a bit player in a vast vanilla ecosystem. In the vanilla hub of Sambava, brokers plough money into shiny multi-story mansions. In big export warehouses, women sort their way through hillocks of beans. They're frisked before they go home, just in case they've filched any.

In rural areas at harvest time, small farmers guard their crops overnight from roaming thieves. If the farmers catch them, justice is swift and sometimes deadly.

They can do crazy things to them – Yockno, tour guide and vanilla farmer

Long before the tense harvest, there's an operation that demands the utmost delicacy. Each vanilla flower must be hand-pollinated – a trick invented by a 12-year-old slave boy in the 1840s. Using a tiny thorn, Yockno shows reporter Adam Harvey how it's done.

So what I do is push this tongue up….

It's all precision – and timing. Each flower is ready for pollination for only one morning each year.

…. and I press softly the male to the female. So now it's done.

Vanilla is surely sweet for Madagascar's people, but not for its most celebrated characters – the exquisite lemurs popularised by the Madagascar movie. High vanilla prices are putting pressure on the lemurs' habitat as forest is illegally cut to grow the beans.

But as Harvey and the Foreign Correspondent team trek deep into the jungle, they discover – to their delight – that lemurs are hanging on defiantly. Our cameras capture them – bamboo lemurs, white-headed lemurs and critically endangered silky safakas, one of the world's rarest mammals – in all their glory.


S2019E04 - Secret Sardinia Air Date: 29 January 2019 09:00 -

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Secret Sardinia– a story of sickness, secrecy and cover-up ...

Sardinia is an island cut in two. Along the white beach-studded Costa Smeralda, a magnet for the rich and famous, a villa can fetch close to $150 million.

"That house is owned by the head of Volkwagen," says realtor Lorenzo Camillo as he takes reporter Emma Alberici for a sail on his yacht. "Ah there we are - there's the famous Berlusconi villa."

But more than a third of Sardinia – including much of its waters – is off limits to locals and visitors, whatever their celebrity. This area is controlled by the Italian military, rented out for some of the world's biggest war games and home to Europe's biggest bomb test site.

This has many locals riled. "Islands, little islands have disappeared, erased by missiles shot from the land, the sky and the sea," says former Sardinian president Mauro Pili.

Pili has also recorded the destruction of some of Sardinia's unique nuraghe - turret-like stone Bronze Age structures built some 3500 years ago – by test bombs.

But it's not cultural vandalism or restricted movement that most concerns Sardinians. In areas near the test sites, there have been high rates of cancers, birth defects and early death.

Giancarlo Piras recalls what the doctor said when his son Francesco, who had served as a soldier at a bombing range, got pancreatic cancer at age 27: "By any chance has your son been in contact with radioactive material?"

Children were born with deformities including missing limbs. In one village in one year, one in four new born babies had some kind of defect. Sheep grazing on the test sites gave birth to grotesquely twisted lambs. Their shepherds too had phenomenally high rates of cancer.

Tissue samples from man and beast showed high levels of a highly toxic material used in many bomb tests. "The longer they lived in the area, the higher the quantity," a nuclear physicist tells Alberici.

As public pressure grew for a full accounting, the military pushed back. "If they didn't want us to see something they wouldn't show it to us. They feared we could find something unusual," says an MP who headed a parliamentary inquiry.

Generals went on the front foot, blaming people's illnesses on close inbreeding. With much fanfare, they announced a scientific inquiry. But as Alberici reports, evidence shows they nobbled it.


S2019E05 - The Promised Land Air Date: 05 February 2019 09:00 -

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On his sleepless nights, Imran paces the floor grappling with ghosts from half a world away and many months past.

I'm wide awake and I call my friends' names. ‘Hey Zainal! Hey Faisal! Where are you?' But they're not here, they're on Manus – Imran, 24, Rohingya refugee who spent nearly five years on Manus Island

But come daylight, Imran can revel in his new home - Chicago, 14,000 kilometres from Manus. It's been more than seven years since, aged 16, he fled persecution in Myanmar. Along the way he was held hostage by people smugglers and detained in Indonesia before making his fateful journey to Christmas Island. Now, thanks to a refugee deal with the US, he has a job and is finishing school.

I'm free, that's all that matters to me. People have been welcoming and I am loved. So, it's home, it definitely feels like home – Imran

An old friend of Imran's from Manus is also making a new life. Amir was 14 when he left Iran. Now 25 and living in Vancouver on Canada's west coast, Amir has a job in tourism and is set to study law. His good fortune flows from a chance meeting with Chelsea Taylor, a Melbourne nurse who worked on Manus and talked her Canadian-Australian parents into sponsoring him.

You rescued me from an island which so many governments and so many countries were not able to do – Amir, to Chelsea's parents Wayne and Linda in Vancouver

Correspondent Eric Tlozek first met Amir and Imran on Manus Island more than 18 months ago. He follows them from behind the wire to their new lives in North America in the most intimate and detailed account so far of life for Manus refugees.

In Canada and the US, Tlozek meets Australian expats, like Wayne Taylor and fashion designer Fleur Wood, who are pitching in to help ex-detainees now that Australia is done with them.

When I heard about them being resettled in America I knew how little help they'd be getting - Fleur Wood, co-founder of Australian Diaspora Steps Up

Nearly 500 ex-Manus and Nauru detainees are scattered across the US, receiving only brief and basic support from the government. Wood's group hustles to find them housing, bedding and clothing.

When Wood searches for some Rohingyas who are just off Nauru, she ends up at a rundown building in North Chicago where four men share a tiny apartment, eking out casual work, dishwashing and cleaning. One is seriously ill.

After five years on Nauru, these men aren't coping with their newfound freedom in America. They still want to come to Australia. Bizarrely, some even want to go back to Nauru.

But for those who are faring better, life is what you make of it.

You can be in the worst place on this planet and make it a heaven for yourself. And you can be in the best country on this planet and make it a hell for yourself – Amir in Vancouver


S2019E06 - Running Amok Air Date: 12 February 2019 09:00 -

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Can you imagine your favourite footy team getting to a game in an armoured personnel carrier? Ever been to a match where the visiting team's fans are banned?

Such is the fear and violence infecting "the beautiful game" in our near neighbour Indonesia.

Indonesia is like, insane – Marko Simic, Croatian playing for Jakarta's team Persija

Riot cops with automatic weapons are as much fixtures as goal posts. Brawling is the norm among the militias of fans and their commanders. Rumours of match-fixing swirl, fuelling crowd anger.

Everyone wants to watch the game - but then you see the enemy and then you fight – Andibachtiar Yusuf, filmmaker and Persija Jakarta fan

About 75 fans have been killed in soccer violence in the past 25 years. In a recent eight-month period, 16 died.Thousands more have been injured.

He never asked for trouble. He was just watching a game – mother of 23-year-old Ari, Jakarta Persija fan who was beaten to death by dozens of Bandung supporters

When fights erupt amid flashes of smoke flares and thunder of drums, games are stopped mid-way. Recently the entire league competition was suspended for a fortnight.

It's got so bad that some football fans are prepared to see the game shut down indefinitely.

Football in Indonesia has become a graveyard, not entertainment. Supporters' lives should never be sacrificed for our love of football – Akmal Marhali, head of NGO Save our Soccer

Correspondent David Lipson immerses himself among "Jakmania" - the Persija Jakarta fans who are as fiery as any in Indonesia - in their race for the championship title. His quest is to understand what drives such violence in a mostly Muslim nation that forswears alcohol.

The word "amok" originates from this part of the world and was first recorded in the 17th century. It resonates today. In Running Amok, Lipson explores a fundamentalist fandom that's become the ugly face of football Indonesian-style.


S2019E07 - Out of Breath Air Date: 19 February 2019 09:00 -

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If ever there was a project to build bridges between North Korea and the rest of us, this is it.

Every six months, without fanfare, medics and volunteers from the US, South Korea and other countries head to the North Korean countryside where they link up with local doctors and nurses to treat patients suffering from the deadly multi-drug resistant TB (MDRTB).

As an outsider you're sort of pulling two worlds together. When I stand in front of North Koreans, most of whom have never seen a non-Asian in their entire lives, I represent a sort of visual spectacle. I represent Americans who they've been taught all of their lives to believe are their enemy – Dr Stephen Linton, founder of the US-based Eugene Bell Foundation

MDRTB strikes close to 500,000 people worldwide each year, many of them in North Korea.

It's a very painful way to die. But the cruellest thing about TB is that it's infectious. You don't just die – you actually kill the people you love – Dr K. J. Seung, Eugene Bell Foundation

Over time the volunteers become emotionally attached to the patients, unashamedly so. On one of her first trips Hyuna Linton met a 14-year-old girl with MDRTB. Six months later, Hyuna returned with medicine and hope. It was too late.

My heart broke then. She was the first patient who died that I can remember – Hyuna Linton, Eugene Bell Foundation

North Korean doctor Im Soonhee dreads facing the family of any patient who's died.

I feel sorry and guilty. I feel we didn't try hard enough or care for them enough – Dr Im, North Korea

Deep emotional bonds also form between the foreigners and their North Korean hosts.

I remember Dr Im touching my cheek and saying, ‘Don't get sick.' I realised how much she worries about us. That kind of warmth is special – Hyuna Linton, volunteer, Eugene Bell Foundation

Their cultural differences put aside, the teams share not only grief but also moments of joy. Such as when a teenage girl recovering from the disease announces her life's new goal:

I want to study medicine. I want to cure people who are sick like me – Youngshim, patient

Defying a common perception of North Koreans as automatons, this film presents them as real people who laugh and cry and love. It's also a rare insight into a part of the world that's been mostly hidden from western eyes.

Out of Breath – from filmmaker Hein S. Seok.


S2019E08 - Climate Hackers Air Date: 26 February 2019 09:00 -

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S2019E09 - The Oasis Air Date: 05 March 2019 09:00 -

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A radical experiment in democracy and women's rights is under way in the old badlands of Islamic State. But as Yaara Bou Melhem reports, it could be crushed in an instant.

It was love at first sight – Azad, 26. My dreams are coming true! – Bercem, 19

Lovestruck couple Azad and Bercem are about to get married. They want the usual things - kids, a nice house, a car. They're just hoping war doesn't get in the way.

Azad and Bercem live in the town of Kobani in north eastern Syria, smack bang in the former territory of Islamic State. Their dream of a normal, peaceful life is shared by millions of fellow Kurds who now lead control of this area and are carving out a bold new system – a direct, secular democracy that enshrines gender equality.

For Azad and Bercem, that means getting married in a civil ceremony, no sheikh required.

We are building democracy, building a life we'd never dreamed of - Azad

In the drably named Autonomous Administration of North Eastern Syria, women hold 50 percent of official positions. Incredibly, Raqqa, the once notorious capital of Islamic State, is now headed by a young woman, Leila Mustapha. The bomber jacket-clad Mustapha is using her civil engineering skills to rebuild the city which will include a makeover of the square where IS displayed crucified and decapitated bodies.

The locals called it ‘Hell Roundabout' because of all the brutal acts committed here – Leila Mustapha

As she tours Raqqa with reporter Yaara Bou Melhem, she does what would have been unthinkable under ISIS: she shakes hands with men on a worksite.

But ISIS isn't wholly gone. It clings to a tiny pocket of territory south of Raqqa, moving among civilians as protection from attack, as Yaara Bou Melham discovers on a trip to the frontline.

The Kurdish-led authority has some 900 ISIS foreign fighters in jail and it wants their home countries to take them back. One prisoner tells Bou Melhem how ISIS pushed its fighters:

If you're not going to fight, you're not going to eat. People, kids, died from starvation - prisoner

ISIS is now the least of the administration's problems. To the west they must deal with Syria's Assad regime and to the north, the biggest worry, Turkey, which has sworn to smash the Kurds when Donald Trump pulls out American troops.

Soldier Azad and journalist Bercem know a Turkish invasion could wreck their new life together. They will do what they know best.

If necessary, he will go to war – Bercem

She will report the situation and expose it to the world – Azad


S2019E10 - Saving Venice Air Date: 12 March 2019 09:00 -

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The "Floating City" is sinking under rising seas and the weight of mass tourism. Now Venice's residents are fighting to reclaim it, as Samantha Hawley reports.


S2019E11 - Opioid America Air Date: 19 March 2019 09:00 -

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A secretive billionaire family pushes a pill that triggers more deaths than guns or car crashes. From backwoods Appalachia to hi tech San Francisco, Conor Duffy investigates America's opioid scourge.

Nan Goldin and thousands of Americans like her are coming after the Sacklers.

"We have to bring down the Sackler family!" she yells in a protest rally in New York. "They should be in jail next to El Chapo."

Goldin, a noted photographer, was addicted to Oxycontin, an opioid painkiller that's twice the strength of morphine.

This little pill – backed by aggressive marketing to doctors and consumers - made the Sackler family its $13 billion fortune. It also tripped an emergency that kills 900 Americans each week and grips two million more in addiction.

Oxycontin was supposed to ease pain for the terminally ill. But via their private company Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers flogged it for everything from stress to crook backs.

"I can't explain how happy I am today. I mean, it's just wonderful," gushed a construction worker in a 1999 Oxycontin ad.

Purdue and the Sacklers now face a welter of lawsuits alleging they knew how addictive Oxycontin would be. It could be the biggest class action ever.

"We're going to get a tobacco-sized verdict against Purdue Pharma," says ex-Oxycontin addict Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy and nephew of JFK.

Purdue, abetted by doctors and pharmacies, showered one West Virginian county's 20,000 people with 12 million Oxycontin pills – that's 600 apiece.

"That drug just about wiped out this county," says local sheriff Martin West. The sheriff estimates more than a fifth of his county is now addicted to opioids, heroin, ice or alcohol.

Rocky Kuhn was a champion boxer as a boy. Later, he was addicted to opiates like so many of his old schoolmates.

"My graduating class – probably a third of ‘em are dead already," he tells reporter Conor Duffy. "And I'm just 33 years old. We didn't have a chance. Nobody had a chance."

All too late, authorities restricted Oxycontin – which became a gateway to more lethal but cheaper drugs. Pill addicts first turned to heroin and now to fentanyl, a lethal synthetic opioid 40 times stronger than heroin.

The opioid epidemic may have just crested in America's east, but not in the laid-back west coast. San Francisco has long tolerated an open drug culture, but city streets now brim with heroin and fentanyl addicts – 80 per cent of whom started on opioid pills.

"There are more injecting drug users in San Francisco – about 25,000 - than there are high school students – 16,000," says a furious city attorney Dennis Herrera, who is behind one of the mega writs against Purdue and the Sacklers.

"This is a major, major problem that is happening right here in one of the richest cities in the country – and despite our efforts, we're being overwhelmed."

While Herrera does battle in the courts, it's up to drug harm reduction workers like Paul Harkin to confront the epidemic in the city streets.

"We're seeing more fentanyl enter cuts in the drugs – and overdose deaths this year are gonna be up," he says, as he hands out clean needles.

One of his clients is George, who went from pills to injecting fentanyl-laced heroin. His self-described "King Kong" habit might soon kill him, but he seems more worried about younger addicts.

"It's like fuck man, I hate to see people out here so young and they have no get-back," he says.

"It's like there's no return. It's a point of no return."


S2019E12 - The Battle For Rio Air Date: 09 April 2019 10:00 -

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Democrat or despot? Brazil's new strongman is cracking down on rampant crime – but many fear the "Trump of the Tropics" is turning his country into a police state. Sally Sara reports.


S2019E13 - High Steaks Air Date: 06 August 2019 10:00 -

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In the season return, Craig Reucassel investigates the future of food, where plant and animal cell-based meat substitutes challenge America's multi-billion-dollar meat industry.


S2019E14 - Taiwan - Death Metal Diplomacy Air Date: 13 August 2019 10:00 -

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China is stepping up the pressure on 'renegade province' Taiwan to drag it into the mainland fold. Bill Birtles travels to Taiwan as it battles to keep its independence and democracy from China.


S2019E15 - Motherland - Ukraine Air Date: 20 August 2019 10:00 -

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Ukraine is the new 'go-to' destination for couples desperate to be parents. But Samantha Hawley uncovers an industry out of control that exploits surrogate mothers and leaves babies abandoned.


S2019E16 - Homage To Barcelona Air Date: 27 August 2019 10:00 -

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When Foreign Correspondent's roving reporter Eric Campbell made Barcelona his base in 2016, he saw it as a place from which to cover stories, not a story in itself.

That all changed in 2017 when the Spanish government cracked down hard on an illegal independence referendum held by the regional Catalan government.

Thousands of national riot police descended on the Catalan capital of Barcelona, dragging voters away from polling stations, firing rubber bullets and locking up the movement's leaders.

"They hurt us not only in our skin, they hurt us in our souls," says one independence supporter. "This was a deep injury. I think it will never heal."

The brutal repression of the vote provoked months of political turmoiI and divided the city between those in favour of independence and those against.

To understand the push for independence, Eric traces today's political passions back to the centuries-old tensions between centrist Spain and Catalonia, when Madrid first repressed the region's distinct language and culture. Then to more recent history, when dictator Francisco Franco tried to kill off the Catalan language and traditions.

Today in Barcelona those traditions are very much alive.

Eric takes us behind the tourist traps to reveal a city still celebrating its culture, from the neighbourhood ‘castell' – or human castle – competitions, to football games where independence chants are a feature of every match, to riotous medieval festivals with devils, giant puppets and fireworks.

As he farewells Barcelona after three years, Eric leaves a community divided politically but united in its passion for its capital and culture.

This is an affectionate portrait of an incredible city at an incredible time.


S2019E17 - Fallout: The Legacy of the Chernobyl Disaster Air Date: 03 September 2019 10:00 -

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The site of the world's worst nuclear accident Chernobyl is now a tourist destination. Linton Besser visits the exclusion zone to see the devastation of nuclear meltdown, government-sanctioned cover-up and radiation sickness.


S2019E18 - Mother Courage - Rwanda Air Date: 10 September 2019 10:00 -

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The inspirational women of Rwanda who have turned pain into hope. They lived through one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century but the power of love and family saved them.


S2019E19 - Testing Times Air Date: 17 September 2019 10:00 -

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As Australia grapples with a spate of deaths at music festivals, triple j presenter Tom Tilley heads to Europe to see drug testing in action. But is it the only way to keep people safe?


S2019E20 - Secrets and Lies Air Date: 24 September 2019 10:00 -

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It's been an open secret for years, Catholic priests fathering children in breach of their vows. After suffering in silence and shame those children are speaking out, demanding answers and recognition from Rome.


S2019E21 - Climate Kids Air Date: 01 October 2019 10:00 -

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They're young, passionate and want to save the planet. We profile three young activists inspired by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg to mobilise the public and demand action on global warming with climate strikes and at the UN.


S2019E22 - The State of Denmark Air Date: 08 October 2019 09:00 -

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'What is Danish?' asks comedian Ellie Jokar. Born in Iran, now a Dane, Ellie struggles to understand why her once friendly country has pulled up the welcome mat. Hamish Macdonald explores a nation with an identity crisis.


S2019E23 - Insectageddon Air Date: 15 October 2019 09:00 -

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Foreign Correspondent travels to Europe to investigate the decline of the insect population, threatening entire ecosystems. Reporter Eric Campbell discovers the causes and the steps in place to reverse the decline.


S2019E24 - At the Edge of the Earth - Alaska Air Date: 22 October 2019 09:00 -

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Alaska's indigenous tribes are fiercely proud of their pristine land and traditions, but as Trump pushes to open up its protected wilderness for oil exploration, Zoe Daniel asks could it be under threat? (Final for 2019)

Next Episode of Foreign Correspondent is

Season 2024 / Episode 13 and airs on 18 July 2024 10:00

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