Friday, 14 December 2012

14 December 2012

Last night, I presented my last edition of The World Tonight. (My last Newshour will be next Tuesday.) That means this is the last of these newsletters in their current form, although if you would like to continue to hear from me, there are details at the end of this newsletter.

I wrote the first one on 8 July 2005, more than seven years ago, a day after the London bomb attacks that killed more than 50 people, and two days after we'd learnt that London had been chosen to host the 2012 Olympic Games. There was plenty to write about that day, and there's been plenty to write about pretty much every week since then.

History, someone once said, is just one damn thing after another. News is the same. Another day, another batch of headlines: a never-ending cacophony of crises, conflicts, and disasters.

What we try to do on The World Tonight -- what I've tried to do in the 40-plus years I've been a journalist -- is make sense of it, or at least some of it.

As a rookie reporter, you're taught to ask the five basic "W" questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? To me, it's the fifth -- Why? -- which is always the most interesting, even if, too often, the only honest answer is "Don't know."

The great joy of the job I've been doing for the past 23 years is that -- as I said on the programme last night -- I've learnt something new every day. Does it mean I understand more? Probably not, or at least not much more … but it's still been well worth trying.

When I started back in 1989, the Cold War was coming to an end. The Berlin wall came down, Germany was reunified, and soon the Soviet Union collapsed. Night after night, we asked what it meant -- was George Bush (the first one) right to talk of the dawning of a New World Order?

Then Yugoslavia imploded, exploded into violence. Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo -- nasty, brutal wars in which thousands died, in a conflict on a continent which thought it had said goodbye to war in 1945. (Among the casualties, our much-missed colleague John Schofield, killed at the age of 29 in Croatia while covering the war for The World Tonight.)

Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and an international military force kicked him out again, but left him in power in Baghdad. Somalia disintegrated into anarchy, and Rwanda drowned in the blood of the 800,000 people killed in the genocide of 1994.

Nelson Mandela was freed from jail, and apartheid made way for democracy in South Africa. In 1998 came the Good Friday agreement and the end (almost) of the violence in Northern Ireland and the IRA's bombing campaign.

As the nineties turned into the noughties, we talked endlessly of liberal interventionism, the Blair doctrine, the responsibility to protect -- fine-sounding phrases to describe a desperate, perhaps forlorn, hope that somehow the combined might of international powers could save civilians from the horrors of war and oppression.

Then came 9/11, followed by the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. A decade of bomb attacks, blamed on jihadis inspired by al Qaeda: among them Bali in 2002 (more than 200 dead); Madrid 2004 (nearly 200 dead); the London bombings in 2005; Mumbai 2008 (160 dead).

China and India became major economic powers; climate change became a major source of international concern; the internet, mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter revolutionised the way we communicate with each other, do business with each other, and defame each other.

You get the picture: over the past two decades, the world has changed in countless fundamental ways. And of course, it is still changing. Governments are still struggling to control a globalised economy; the international financial system struggles to recover from the near melt-down caused by reckless lending and casino banking. Britain still hasn't decided what it wants its relationship to be with the rest of the EU; nor has the US decided what kind of relationship it wants with China.

In many ways -- although it's easy to forget this amid the babble of the headlines -- the world is a far, far better place than it was 23 years ago.

Fewer women die in childbirth; fewer children die before the age of five. In 1990, roughly half the global population lived on less than a dollar a day; by 2007, the proportion had shrunk to 28 per cent. Economic growth has been faster in the poorest regions like sub-Saharan Africa than across the world as a whole.

We're also winning the global battle against infectious diseases. Between 1999 and 2005, thanks to the spread of vaccinations, the number of children who died annually from measles dropped by 60 per cent. The proportion of the world's infants vaccinated against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus climbed from less than half to more than 80 per cent between 1985 and 2008.

I shall continue to watch, and read, and think -- and write on this blog as well as elsewhere.
So I won't say goodbye, but I will say thank you. Thank you for listening to the programme, and thank you for reading this blog. Let's stay in touch.


quietoaktree said...

Thanks for your BBC blog. I hope you will feel free from journalistic neutrality and give your own personal views.

Darcy Sarto said...

Thank you Robin.