Witness

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Synopsis

History as told by the people who were there.

Episodes

  • China's 'Economic Miracle'

    18/06/2021 Duration: 11min

    Since the 1980s China has witnessed massive economic growth. It’s become known as the 'world’s factory'. The driving force behind much of it has been a vast migrant workforce of millions of people, many from the countryside. But at what cost to village life and rural communities? Rebecca Kesby has been speaking to writer Liang Hong about her experience of leaving the Chinese countryside, and why she is determined to document the lives of those living through seismic change. (PHOTO:

  • The Trabant

    17/06/2021 Duration: 08min

    The iconic East German car dominated the roads of communist Central Europe for decades. The Trabant was made out of resin and cotton waste, had a two-stroke engine and its design remained virtually unchanged for thirty years. Johannes Dell has been hearing from legendary German designer Karl Clauss Dietel who worked for years to make improvements to the Trabant - but his innovations were never implemented. (Photo: a Trabant 601. Credit: BBC)

  • The police rape interview that shocked Britain

    16/06/2021 Duration: 08min

    When the BBC broadcast a documentary called 'A Complaint of Rape' in 1982 the public was shocked. It was part of a fly-on-the-wall series about the police in which officers were filmed aggressively questioning a woman about her allegation of rape. It made news around the world and inspired the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to question the procedure as well as the attitude of those involved. The woman was asked personal questions about her sex life, menstruation and about her mental health. The officers told her directly that they didn't believe her claim. It led individual police forces to reassess the way they investigated allegations of rape. Claire Bowes has been speaking to film-maker Roger Graef about the footage. Photo: an image from the film 'A Complaint of Rape' by Roger Graef and the BBC (1982).

  • The Confederate flag and America’s battle over race

    14/06/2021 Duration: 14min

    In June 2015 an American anti-racist activist climbed a flagpole on the South Carolina state house grounds to take down the Confederate flag. The protest followed the killing of 9 black people at a historic Charleston church by a white supremacist who was pictured holding the flag. The Confederate flag was the battle flag of the troops who fought to retain slavery during America’s civil war. For African Americans the flag is a symbol of slavery, segregation and black subordination. Bree Newsome Bass talks to Farhana Haider about her act of protest. Bree Newsome taking down the Confederate flag at the State House in Columbia, SC, on Saturday 27th June 2015 . She was arrested for her action. (Photo by Adam Anderson / Reuters)

  • Mindfulness for the masses

    14/06/2021 Duration: 11min

    In 1979 scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn opened the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, pioneering a meditative approach to treat pain and depression. In a few decades, mindfulness has gone from being a specialist element of Buddhist teaching to a billion dollar industry. In 2019, Farhana Haider spoke to Dr Kabat-Zinn about the popularising of mindfulness to tackle the stresses of modern life. (Photo Jon Kabat-Zinn teaching MBSR at the University of Massachusetts Medical School 1992, Credit Jon Kabat-Zinn)

  • The Fall of Madrid

    11/06/2021 Duration: 09min

    In 1939, the Spanish capital, Madrid, finally fell to the fascist forces of General Franco – spelling the end of a brutal Civil War in which hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians were killed. The city had been under siege for more than two years and had become a symbol of resistance for the defeated Spanish Republic. Simon Watts has been listening to the memories of Rene MacColl and William Forrest, two British war correspondents who reported from Madrid. PHOTO: Franco's troops entering Madrid in 1939 (Getty Images)

  • The elections that Hamas won

    10/06/2021 Duration: 09min

    Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem voted in legislative elections in 2006. The Islamist Hamas movement stood against the Fatah party for the first time - and won. It was an outcome that surprised everyone. Zak Brophy has been hearing from Hazem Balousha who was working for the Palestinian Election Commission at the time. (Image: A Palestinian Hamas activist (L) and Fatah activist (R) stand together outside a polling station on January 25, 2006 in the West Bank Village of Abu Dis. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.)

  • Benjamin Britten's War Requiem

    09/06/2021 Duration: 09min

    Regarded as one of the most important pieces in 20th Century English music, Benjamin Britten's War Requiem was first played in the newly-built Coventry Cathedral in 1962. The original had been destroyed during World War II. In 2013, Simon Watts spoke to Maggie Cotton, one of the orchestral performers who took part, and to composer Michael Berkeley, Britten's godson. (Photo: Benjamin Britten in 1964 - BBC copyright)

  • Tunisia’s legal brothels

    08/06/2021 Duration: 08min

    For decades, Tunisia has had a system of legal, state-regulated brothels. But in the last ten years they have been under attack and many have been forced to close. Josephine Casserly has been talking to Professor Abdelmajid Zahaf, a Tunisian doctor who has been working with legal sex workers for 35 years. The voice-over of Professor Zahaf is by Raad Rawi.

  • When Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor

    07/06/2021 Duration: 09min

    On 7 June 1981 Israeli fighter jets launched a surprise attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor located outside Baghdad, killing 11 people. The French-built reactor was still under construction and there was no leakage of nuclear material, but the bombing was widely condemned internationally. Israel argued that it had effectively slowed down Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme by ten years, while the Iraqis insisted that the reactor was being built for purely scientific research. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to Dr Fadhil Muslim al Janabi, a former consultant for Iraq's nuclear agency and one of the first people to see the damaged reactor site. Producer in Baghdad: Mona Mahmoud Picture: The Tammuz light-water nuclear materials testing reactor under construction in Al-Tuwaitha, just outside of Baghdad, 1979. (Getty Images)

  • How Switzerland defeated its heroin epidemic

    04/06/2021 Duration: 09min

    In the 1990s, Switzerland decided to tackle one of Europe's worst drugs epidemics by trying radical new policy ideas including providing safe-injection rooms for addicts and even prescribing pure heroin. The new strategy dramatically cut overdoses, HIV infections and the number of new users, and in 2008 the Swiss voted in a referendum to enshrine the changes permanently in law. Zak Brophy talks to Andre Seidenberg, a Swiss doctor who worked with addicts for decades, and to former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss, who campaigned for the change in policy. PHOTO: Drug addicts in a disused railway station in Zurich in the 1990s (Getty Images)

  • Afghanistan's poppy problem

    03/06/2021 Duration: 11min

    Laila Haidari set up Kabul's first independent drug rehabilitation centre in 2010. Having helped her own brother to quit his heroin addiction she wanted to help others. More than 80% of the world's illegal opium and heroin comes from Afghanistan. International criminal groups have exploited years of warfare and lawlessness to expand production, but the insecurity has also led to poverty and increased drug addiction inside Afghanistan. Laila Haidari explains to Rebecca Kesby how local people have been affected. (PHOTO: An Afghan farmer harvests opium sap from a poppy field in the Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar province in 2018. The US government has spent billions of dollars on a war to eliminate drugs from Afghanistan, but the country still remains the world's top opium producer. (Credit NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP via Getty Images)

  • When Peru mistook missionaries for drug traffickers

    02/06/2021 Duration: 09min

    In April 2001 the Peruvian Air Force mistakenly shot down a small passenger plane as it flew over the Amazon jungle. The Peruvians believed the aircraft was carrying drugs. Onboard was a group of American missionaries. Mike Lanchin spoke to Jim Bowers, who survived the crash, but whose wife and baby daughter were killed. This programme is a rebroadcast Photo: The missionary plane shot down by the Peruvian Air Force lies in shallow waters of the Amazon River. (Photo by Newsmakers)

  • The killing of Pablo Escobar

    01/06/2021 Duration: 09min

    The Colombian drug trafficker, once one of the richest men in the world, was shot dead by police in December 1993. He had been on the run from the authorities for over a year. Jordan Dunbar has been speaking to Elizabeth Zilli who worked for the US Drug Enforcement Agency in Colombia and who helped track down Pablo Escobar. Photo: Colombian forces storm the rooftop where drug lord Pablo Escobar was shot dead on 2nd December 1993. (Credit:Jesus Abad-el Colombiano/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The war on drugs

    31/05/2021 Duration: 09min

    The first 'war on drugs' was launched by US President Richard Nixon in 1971. He described drug abuse as a 'national emergency' and asked Congress for nearly four hundred million dollars to tackle the problem. Claire Bowes spoke to one of Nixon's policy advisors, Jeffrey Donfeld, about an approach to drugs which he describes as more 'find them and help them' than 'find them and lock them up'. And how he convinced the President to roll out a nationwide programme of methadone treatment for heroin addicts. This programme is a rebroadcast Photo: US President Richard Nixon (BBC)

  • The Tulsa Race Massacre

    28/05/2021 Duration: 09min

    Greenwood was a flourishing and prosperous black neighbourhood of Tulsa, often referred to as Black Wall Street. But in May 1921, a white mob descended on the district, destroying homes, businesses and lives. In this Witness History, Josephine Casserly talks to historian John W. Franklin, of Franklin Global, about the story of his grandfather, Buck Franklin, who survived the massacre. The words of Buck Franklin are voiced by Stefan Adegbola. Image: An African-American man with a camera examining the ashes of a burned-out block after the Tulsa Race Massacre. Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images

  • Rock concert for Chernobyl

    27/05/2021 Duration: 09min

    On May 31st 1986 a small group of musicians staged the first charity rock concert ever held in the USSR. It was organised in less than two weeks to raise money for the victims of the Chernobyl disaster. The nuclear reactor accident had happened just a month before in Ukraine. Some of the artists who played at the concert had been previously banned by the Soviet authorities, so the concert was a social revolution, as organiser - Artemy Troitsky explains to Rebecca Kesby. (PHOTO Credit Sputnik: 1986 Charity concert arranged to raise funds for accident management at the Chernobyl power station. Olimpiysky sports complex.)

  • Amilcar Cabral: An African liberation legend

    26/05/2021 Duration: 14min

    In the 1960s and 70s, Amilcar Cabral led the armed struggle to end Portuguese colonial rule in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde in West Africa. Cabral was an unusual rebel leader. He was an agricultural engineer, writer and poet who founded the liberation movement, the PAIGC, in 1956 to end Portuguese rule of his home country. In Guinea Bissau, the PAIGC fought a successful guerrilla war against a much larger Portuguese army. But Cabral was assassinated shortly before Portugal officially conceded independence in 1974. Alex Last spoke to former liberation fighter, Commander Manuel dos Santos about the struggle and his memories of Amilcar Cabral. (Photo: Rebel soldiers on patrol in Guinea Bissau during the Portuguese Colonial War in West Africa, 1972. Credit: Reg Lancaster/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • The first Arab woman pilot

    25/05/2021 Duration: 09min

    Despite opposition from her father, Lotfia Elnadi was determined to realise her dream to fly. With her mother's consent, she secretly took flying lessons from an English instructor at a small airfield in the desert outside Cairo. And in September 1933 she made history by becoming the first female pilot in the Arab world. Mike Lanchin has been hearing from the Egyptian film-maker and writer Wageh George who interviewed Lotfia at the end of her long life for a film about her amazing achievement entitled 'Take Off From The Sand'. Photo credit: Alamy Archive of Lotfia Elnadi from 'Take Off From The Sand'

  • The strike that shocked India

    24/05/2021 Duration: 09min

    When one and a half million Indian railway workers went on strike for 20 days in 1974 it brought the country to a halt. Essential food, goods and workers were unable to reach their destinations. Despite this, the general public were largely sympathetic to the strike as they too felt a sense of anger at the government over the economy and allegations of corruption. Claire Bowes has been talking to union leader Subhash Malgi about why the government attempt to prevent the action with mass arrests and harassment backfired and to author Stephen Sherlock about how it became - what was at the time - the biggest strike in history and led to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's declaration the following year of a national state of emergency. Photo: Train from Darjeeling to Siliguri 1970. Credit: Paolo KOCH/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

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