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January 7, 2009
Producers recount personal stories from Gaza and Israel

Producers Yuval Lion, an Israeli citizen, and Mohammad al-Kassim, a Palestinian-American, work together daily at Worldfocus covering the conflict tearing their people apart.

They join Martin Savidge to share the opinions they hear from this divided region of the world.

See part one of their conversation here: Israeli, Palestinian media show different sides of Gaza story.

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January 6, 2009
Israeli, Palestinian media show different sides of Gaza story

Accusations of media bias are frequent in the current conflict in Gaza. Israel banned foreign reporters from the war zone, adding to communication difficulties.

Martin Savidge speaks with two Worldfocus producers about their background and knowledge of international media. Mohammad al-Kassim is a Palestinian-American raised in Jerusalem and Yuval Lion is an Israeli citizen who has family remaining in Israel.

In the first part of a series of discussions, they share what they are hearing from on the ground and discuss media coverage of the Gaza war, both internationally and in Israel and the Arab world.

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December 24, 2008
Home for the holidays

Martin reporting from a foxhole. Photo: Martin Savidge

Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge is heading home to celebrate Christmas with his family, but recalls spending past holidays in Kuwait and Korea — and remembers one holiday miracle.

I am taking this week off so that I can be home with my family for Christmas. Working on the holidays is one of those potential pitfalls of being a journalist. The news doesn’t take a day off — so seldom do we, holiday or no. This year, I can take some time.

I have spent many a Christmas past working, often in faraway places.

One of the most dismal was in 1998 during Operation Desert Fox, a major four-day bombing campaign by the United States and the United Kingdom on Iraqi targets. The strikes were carried out in response to Iraq’s alleged failure to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions and for interference with U.N. weapons inspectors.

The concern was that Iraq might retaliate by striking out at its neighbor, Kuwait, so I spent Christmas in the Kuwaiti desert with U.S. forces on alert. Christmas Eve was especially depressing, as I sat hunkered in a foxhole while a sand storm raged all around. Fortunately, the attack never happened and I made it home about a week later. Little did I know that five years later, I would be back in a foxhole in the same Kuwaiti desert — only this time, there would be war.

Another time, two years ago around Christmas, while at NBC, I pitched doing some stories in the upcoming year from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. An NBC exec decided, “Heck, why wait? Christmas is as good a time as any.” Suddenly, I found myself once again on a long-distance flight heading halfway around the world taking me far from home for the holidays. It only added to my depression that it was my own idea.

I was there about a week. My last report was to be for “Nightly News” on Christmas Eve in the states. The story was about going on a patrol with U.S. soldiers as they monitored the dangerous divide between North and South Korea. Because of the time difference, I was actually reporting live from the DMZ on Christmas Day morning in Korea. I did not have to file for Christmas Day in the states because, due to football, there were no newscasts.

I suddenly realized if the planets and airplane schedules were in perfect alignment, I could still make it home on Christmas Day.

The planning had to be perfect. And, I had a big assist from both the U.S. and South Korean militaries — as soon as I finished my report, a Humvee was standing by to take me to the last checkpoint outside the DMZ, where a car had been cleared to pick me up. It whisked me to the airport where I caught a plane to Chicago, which connected with another flight to Cleveland. There, my family was gathering at my brother’s house, since I wasn’t going to be home.

I will always remember what came next — stepping out of the taxi in front of my brother’s house at three in the afternoon on Christmas Day. I walked to the front door, having told no one of my plans. Through the window, I could see my family preparing to sit down for the holiday meal. It was like an out-of-body experience…This is what they do when I’m not here; another Christmas without dad.

Then I rang the doorbell. My brother shouted, my mom nearly fainted and my wife and I both cried.

Finally, after so many times of disappointing at Christmas, I was finally able to give my family the greatest holiday gift of all…I was home.

Happy holidays to all, and above all I wish you peace.

– Martin Savidge

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December 17, 2008
A baby dies because of tainted heparin

Alex and Ann Oryschak with their son, Julien, who died in 2007.

Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner writes about his experience reporting on a Worldfocus signature story on the contamination of U.S. drugs: Contaminated drug imports threaten Americans.

As usual, after you do all the reporting and analysis, the human dimensions of a news story bring it all home.

Producer Ara Ayer and I interviewed a young couple, Alex and Ann Oryschak, for a number of hours in November 2008. Their infant son, Julien, was a sick little boy — but they think that the blood thinner heparin may have contributed to his death. He was eight months old.

We spoke to the Oryschaks on the one-year anniversary of Julien’s death on Nov. 19, 2007. The Oryschaks were willing to speak about this in hopes that their pain might lead to changes in the regulation of drugs. Perhaps, Ann Oryschak told me, another mother would not have to see her child suffer and die in the same way.

Perhaps the most surprising fact that emerged in our three months of reporting on contaminated heparin ingredients from China: The U.S. government has little ability to know whether the drugs we are taking are safe or not.

The Food and Drug Administration just doesn’t know how many people died as a result of the heparin problem. The FDA doesn’t have the staff to inspect more than a handful of the thousands of laboratories in China, India and other parts of the world.

The U.S. government doesn’t require doctors and hospitals to provide immediate information on unusual occurrences leading to injury and death. And medical professionals are often too busy and too worried about lawsuits to file such reports. We may not know about more than about 1 percent of the cases of people harmed or even killed by adulterated heparin.

As a result, doctors must take it on faith that the medicines they are prescribing are exactly what they are supposed to be. One physician I spoke to, Dr. Frederick Rickles, a hematologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said that the heparin case is not isolated.

“We see on a regular basis evidence for manufacturing problems throughout the industry and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. It occurs with automobiles, it occurs with jet planes, why wouldn’t it occur with the production of…complex medications.”

– Peter Eisner

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December 16, 2008
Rehabilitating rape victims and families in Congo

Michael J. Kavanagh and Taylor Krauss reported on the crisis in eastern Congo for Worldfocus: Rape as a weapon of war in DR Congo. Here, they highlight efforts to rehabilitate rape victims and their families in eastern Congo, presenting a short video about the ventures of one counseling organization.

Many journalists and activists have produced harrowing accounts of the epidemic of sexual violence in Congo. But as intense violence destabilizes North Kivu once again, we thought it was important to reiterate that the pervasiveness of rape is directly linked to the war.

Cases of sexual violence skyrocket during and after battles and along frontlines. Armed groups are deeply aware of the stigma surrounding rape and they exploit it in order to destroy families and bring women — and men — to their knees. The key to finding ways to “Stop Rape” in Congo is not just to increase awareness of rape, but also to increase our understanding of the causes of the war and work to end it.

Which brings us to the men. Men commit most of the violence in Congo, and most of the rapes. But many men are also victims, too — often directly through rape and torture, but also indirectly through what their wives and daughters and mothers experience.

Because they are both perpetrators and victims, more and more women’s organizations work with men, too, to educate and counsel them.

In fact, Georgina and André met with counselors from an extraordinary organization called SOPROP (Solidarite Pour la Promotion Sociale et la Paix) that helps victims of torture and their families. SOPROP offered couple’s counseling to Georgina and André, and though in this case they still separated, SOPROP’s efforts have encouraged hundreds of other families to stay together, empowering the husbands to care for the women in their lives without turning their backs.

Lisa Biagiotti and Bijan Rezvani of Worldfocus.org helped us produce this short interview with SOPROP’s Lydie Suatula to highlight the work SOPROP does in Congo.

Many groups do wonderful work with women who’ve been raped — SOPROP and Synergie des Femmes from this piece are two examples.

You can also support Eve Ensler’s grassroots movement of women — the V-day campaign — as well as Heal AfricaHuman Rights Watch and the ENOUGH project also do invaluable research and advocacy on behalf of women and all victims of torture in Congo and elsewhere in the world.

– Michael J. Kavanagh and Taylor Krauss

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December 11, 2008
Join our giant kitchen conversation

      

Click above to visit Worldfocus at BlogTalkRadio.

Anchor Martin Savidge hosted his first radio show on Tuesday on the Kashmiri people, history and human rights.

In case you didn’t know it, this past Tuesday marked another milestone for Worldfocus…our first time on the radio. It was BlogTalkRadio, another new tool of the Web. And it was wonderful.

One of the beauties of radio is, of course, you don’t see me. So after the televised version of Worldfocus that night, I went home and slipped into a pair of jeans, a T-shirt and a comfy sweater.

I was casual, and that’s the idea of the radio show.

We chose Kashmir to talk about because it’s been in the news lately in connection to the terror attacks in Mumbai, India, and has received a lot of feedback from commenters on Worldfocus.org. It’s an area few Americans have been to, and even fewer understand. No wonder; it’s a very complex story. That’s why I was thrilled to have an entire half-hour to talk about one subject.

We had four guests on the line. It was radio, but we all spoke using the telephone: Two professors, a former Pakistani Ambassador and a young Kashmiri-American who is also in a rock band that plays music inspired by his homeland.

After the introductions, I think everyone got it that this wasn’t a formal interview. Rather, it was a talk amongst friends, as if we were all seated at a kitchen table after the plates have been cleared, with only cups of coffee before us. Everyone shared and everyone gained.

It was such a hit — not just with the speakers but with listeners as well — that we decided the next day to make it a regular thing.

So starting in January, we will select a subject each week and join a panel of  knowledgeable guests, slip into some comfy slippers and start a conversation about something in the world. We’ll tell you the topic and how to join the talk a couple of days before on the television version of Worldfocus. That way, you can call in or e-mail. You’ll have to provide your own coffee, I’m afraid.

So pull up a chair and join our giant kitchen conversation (courtesy of the Internet) at Worldfocus.org. We’ve got a lot to talk about.

Talk to you on the radio.

– Martin Savidge

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December 5, 2008
Turtle gazing on Nicaragua’s silky shores

Producer Megan Thompson took some time to turtle gaze during her trip to Nicaragua, where she reported and filmed the story Coffee producers lead fight against cancer in Nicaragua.

A turtle making her way to shore to lay her eggs on the beach. Photo: Jonathan Perez

These turtle eggs are buried in the sand along a beach in Nicaragua. They will hatch in two months, provided poachers don’t get to them first. Photo: Megan Thompson

It’s 10 p.m. on Friday night in San Juan del Sur, a vacation town on the west coast of Nicaragua. While the rest of the city gathers in the streets to kick off a booze-fueled weekend, I’m in a hostel listening to a lecture on turtles.

We are about to climb into a van for an hour-long journey to look for tortugas, the huge sea turtles that arrive every year to lay their eggs along a stretch of silky Nicaraguan beach.

After an hour on a “road” –- more like a long clearing in the woods –- we arrive at Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor, where around 30,000 giant Olive Ridley turtles (and a few Leatherbacks) have climbed ashore in recent weeks.

Development and poaching are threatening sea turtles around the world, and La Flor is one of the few protected places on this stretch of the Pacific Coast. In an extraordinary feat of navigation and instinct, the turtles return to beach where they were born to lay the next generation.

If they find the beach filled with people, buildings or bright lights, they’ll just turn around and leave.  And if they do make it ashore, their nests are threatened by poachers who steal the eggs for food.

We climb out of the van and take the sandy path down to the beach, guided only by a red flashlight, which apparently does not bother the turtles.

Luckily, the white beach is gleaming in the light of a nearly-full moon. And there in the moonlight is what we’ve come for: A hunched, dark lump in the sand. This turtle has already dug her large hole and is poised to deliver.

A man at the scene explains that it appears she’s been injured. Part of her left back leg is missing; maybe an accident with a boat or a net. And then it begins –- dozens of perfectly round eggs descend to the sand.  We are each allowed one photo with flash, but must crouch down and stick the camera practically in the hole to contain the light.

We stand in a silent semi-circle for a good half-hour watching this lone turtle slowly but surely lay her eggs.  A woman comments on how it almost feels embarrassing –- a rather private moment invaded by strangers.

When she’s done, she slowly kicks the sand over her nest and packs it down to protect the nest. The eggs will stay here, alone, for the next two months until the babies hatch, fight their way out and then find the ocean.

The mother turtle turns to the ocean –- our guide says she can hear the low rumble of the waves –- and begins her slow return. Every ten steps, she pauses for a break.

Our circle turns with her and we mimic her journey: Ten steps, pause, then continuing on, until she reaches the edge of the sea, and we bid her farewell.

– Megan Thompson

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December 4, 2008
Mining for cluster bombs in Afghanistan

A man likely killed by a cluster bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A cluster bomb in an open field.

On Wednesday, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan announced that he would support a multinational treaty to ban the use of the cluster weapons.

Cluster bombs have devastated Afghanistan over the last several years. The U.S. dropped about 1,228 cluster bombs on the country between October 2001 and March 2002 in the heat of war. Long after individual attacks ended, bombs left in the open posed a danger to unsuspecting Afghan civilians.

The U.S. has refused to sign the treaty. Officials say the U.S. has not used any cluster bombs since 2003.

Anchor Martin Savidge recalls the time he walked into an Afghan field of unexploded U.S. bombs in February 2002.

After two decades of war in Afghanistan, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) was responsible for cleaning up the remnants of the war-torn countryside. I was in the field with two EOD men on patrol, along with several soldiers.

We were looking for the place where an Afghan man died. After following them across parched fields, we finally stopped. Suddenly, they began counting.

“One, two, three, four.”

It was then I realized I’d followed them into a field of unexploded bomblets from a U.S. cluster bomb. This was what the dead Afghan man had found.

I looked down and the ground was stained with blood.

“Eleven, 12, 13, 14.”

“Blue 97 A-B’s. Nasty,” one said.

“Eighteen, 19, 20, 21.”

It was more than they had figured on. One of the men headed back to the truck to get more explosive — these guys fought fire with fire.

The other urged me over for a look-see at the innocent-looking yellow tubes, about 10 inches in length. I was almost nose to nose with one when he told me about their spring-trigger mechanism. Each one has a charge capable of destroying lightly armored vehicles. They added a dash of thermite so whatever exploded also burned.

They ran detonation cord (“detcord”) to each bomblet, mating it to a block of C-4.

The fuse was another piece of specialized plastic-looking cord. Each foot took about a minute to burn. They reeled off 12 feet. It couldn’t take more than 5 minutes to reach a safe distance.

We waited behind the cover of a Humvee (they’re as common as dust there). Twelve minutes came and went.

“What happens if it doesn’t go off?” I asked.

“We wait 30 minutes and go back for a look.”

Blammo!

At least 21 Humvees may have slept better that night, but the wife and four children of the dead Afghan man did not.

We then came upon some Afghan villagers who had volunteered to rid the area of dangerous leftovers of the war.

Three hours later, we were behind a small hill in front of a pile of eight rusty Soviet 120 mm mortars. Minutes before, some local villagers had asked if the EOD guys could get rid of them.

“Cool,” said EOD Guy 1.

They carried the shells to a nearby pit and ordered curious onlookers back to their homes. But I was really curious and wanted to see the explosion up close.

They were reluctant, but we compromised and sought shelter behind a crumbling mud brick wall at the top of the hill.

“It’s still going to rock your world,” said EOD Guy 2, with 50 pounds of combined high explosives in the hole.

The soldiers on patrol with us wanted no part of “rocking” anything. They hopped into their Humvee and drove a quarter-mile away.

“The last job ate up most of the fuse cord,” said EOD Guy 1. He held a cord just three feet in length.

I decided to get a head start to the mud wall while they finished up. Moments later, they hustled up after me.

EOD Guy 2 lay down and plugged his ears. EOD Guy 1 stood standing and didn’t plug a thing. I followed EOD Guy 2’s example.

BOOM!

I expected it to be louder. I hadn’t expected the shrapnel scything the air above our heads. Apparently neither had EOD Guy 1 or EOD Guy 2. They both dove on top of me. I told you I liked these guys. We got up and high-fived.

The village was safe.

– Martin Savidge

Photos courtesy of Flickr users Lorna87 and twocentsworth under a Creative Commons license.

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December 4, 2008
Understanding Kashmir through Texas

A sign outside of Martin Savidge’s hotel in Srinagar. Photo: Martin Savidge

Boats on a Kashmiri lake. Photo: Martin Savidge

Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge tries to use a historical U.S. metaphor to understand the origins of the conflict in Kashmir.

It was only a few weeks ago I blogged about good news involving India, Pakistan and Kashmir. The region was celebrating the opening of a new trade route between the two nuclear rivals through the disputed land.

Now Kashmir is back in the news, and there are concerns India and Pakistan may be back on the brink of war over it. Kashmiri separatists (Lashkar-e-toiba) are the leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to blame for carrying out the massacre in Mumbai and fingers are pointing to Pakistan for, at the very least, serving as the refuge and training ground for the terrorists.

Kashmir has inspired more than 60 years of bloodshed. Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the region. In 2001 and 2002, they nearly fought a fourth. That’s when I was in Kashmir. Fortunately it didn’t happen. There was fighting — artillery duels mainly, daily across the line of control — but all-out war was avoided.

On Wednesday, I interviewed Vikram Singh, a fellow with the Center for a New American Security, a non-partisan research group that examines national security and defense issues. I was trying to understand why Kashmir in the minds of Indians and Pakistanis was worth such a toll in blood.

I remember talking to those on both sides of the conflict while in Kashmir. Indian officials said India would never give up Kashmir. Kashmiri separatists said they would never stop desiring Kashmir. With both sides using words like never, compromise is hard to find.

It was what Vikram said after our interview that triggered a light bulb of understanding for this American. Vikram described the feelings about the conflict in a way to which I could relate.

“Think of Texas,” he said, “which was once a part of Mexico.” (Kashmir is actually about the size of Kansas.)

Vikram was asking me to imagine if that conflict had never been resolved, or if Mexico suddenly wanted Texas back. Beyond not wanting to give up a huge swath of U.S. geography, Texas is also part of the American psyche.

Its wide-open ranges, its history, cowboys, wildcatters, the stars at night they burn so bright — Texas is not just a place. It embodies much of America’s essence. We’d never give up Texas. Kashmir is Texas to India…unfortunately, it’s also the same to Pakistan.

Other experts have suggested that now could be the best time for India and Pakistan to resolve their long feud over Kashmir. That is extremely naïve.

It cannot be fixed with a week of shuttle diplomacy. Nor can separatists hope to win it by murder and terror. Instead, it will take small steps over years, like trade routes, to bring a resolution.

For now, the best we can hope — for India, for Pakistan and for Kashmir — is that these nuke neighbors back off the brink and lift their fingers from the button.

– Martin Savidge

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December 3, 2008
Detained by Congo’s secret police

Taylor Krauss shoots footage in eastern Congo. Photo: Michael J. Kavanagh

Taylor Krauss is a producer, video journalist and the founder of Voices of Rwanda. He traveled to Congo with reporter Michael kavanagh to capture footage for the Worldfocus report on the Congo: The story of Pascal and Vestine. Here, he writes about their harrowing detention by Congo’s notorious secret police.

Read Michael Kavanagh’s account of their experience here.

I wasn’t surprised when the secret police stopped me and Michael Kavanagh as we headed out to film in Rutshuru [a town in North Kivu] in October. After all, it wasn’t the first time I had been taken in by Congolese police for “carrying a camera,” and “not having my paperwork in order.”

I knew a padded handshake could solve things in a country where [former president] Mobutu used to tell his citizens to “fend for themselves.” But I also knew that when working with NGOs in Congo, you follow their lead — because without them, you’ve got nothing. On that morning, the International Rescue Committee refused to allow us to bribe the officers, and the officers were furious.

First, they demanded my camera. When it became clear to them that they’d first need to buy a saw to cut off my arm in order to get my camera, they decided to settle for my passport. I never let that out of my grip, either, so they decided they would settle for my tapes.

When I refused, they told us to follow them in the car to headquarters. I was already frustrated we had missed our dawn shots at the IDP [internally displaced persons] camp and had hoped we wouldn’t lose any more time, but knew we potentially had a lot more to lose.

After several grueling hours of questioning, the head of security still wasn’t satisfied. The underlings told him we’d filmed critical military targets and that we were in fact spies from Rwanda.

Of course, they demanded to review my tapes. Not wanting to spend a night in a Congolese jail on the eve of the outbreak of war, I’d already cued up my b-roll [supplemental footage] tape of a sunrise and children playing. They scratched their chins as they watched my recordings of children dancing in front of my camera, but I think they were actually enjoying it.

Ultimately, they decided to take all the tapes. Michael was devastated.

Later that day, I crossed over the border into Rwanda and called Michael. On the way to headquarters, I had hidden the “money” tape — with footage of the United Nations jungle patrols — deep in my bag’s “secret pocket,” and I had just reviewed it.

“Fend for yourself,” the Congolese creed, had come in handy.  We were lucky. Since that time, reporting has become even more difficult and dangerous.

Sorry – there are no sunrises.

– Taylor Krauss

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