The Real Story

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While US domestic policy has taken centre stage in the race for the White House, whichever man wins the presidency will also help define America’s place in the world for years to come. President Trump won 2016’s election, in part, on promising to reduce the number of military and diplomatic entanglements the country was involved in across the globe. In the Middle East he pulled US forces out of Syria, withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration, and has strengthened ties with regional allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In Asia the US is engaged in a trade war with its single biggest trading partner - China. During his first term Donald Trump also had a frosty relationship with many of his NATO allies - and a much closer one with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin than any of his predecessors. Did those newly-defined strategic partnerships herald new achievements? Joe Biden has promised to turn back the clock on many of Mr Trump’s ‘America First’ themed policies, but which ones? And has the role the US plays on the world stage changed forever? As part of the BBC World Service's 'US Elections 2020: What the World Wants' series, Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss what's next for American foreign policy.
This week North Korea celebrated 75 years of communism with a military parade at which it unveiled an giant intercontinental missile. The heavily choreographed event featured all the pomp and circumstance the world has come to expect from North Korea's mass human performances. It also contained a surprisingly emotional speech from Chairman Kim Jong-Un, who at times wept as he spoke about the country's struggles. The country’s first military parade in two years signalled a shift back to the more aggressive stance it used to adopt before the now stalled nuclear talks with the Trump administration. So is there any hope that temporary thaw created enduring opportunities for engagement with the rest of the world - or are we seeing a return to past behaviour? Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss - how dangerous is North Korea?
The alleged rape and subsequent death of a 19-year-old woman in India has again shone a spotlight on caste-based violence against the Dalit community – formerly known as “untouchables”. According to official figures, men from India's upper castes rape ten Dalit women a day. Although the northern state of Uttar Pradesh records the highest number of such cases, caste-based violence and discrimination is prevalent throughout the country and in Indian communities around the world. Dalits make up nearly twenty percent of India's population and were given equal protection under the constitution after independence from Britain. But rights groups say while many Dalits have been able to take advantage of quota systems to move up the economic ladder, violence and discrimination against the community is worsening. The current racial justice movement in the United States is inspiring Dalit activists to be move assertive in speaking up for their rights – but what gains can Dalits expect to make? What is at the core of the discrimination and prejudice against them? And why are Dalit women especially targeted for sexual violence? Ritula Shah and guests discuss the future of Dalits in India.
The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has taken on a new dimension with the alleged involvement of the Turkish military. Armenia says one of its fighter jets was shot down by a Turkish aircraft over the disputed central Asian region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In the summer, France accused the Turkish navy of confronting one of its frigates in pursuit of a vessel suspected of taking arms to Libya. Meanwhile Turkey's understanding with Russia and Iran over the war in Syria has strained its ties with Washington, as well as several Gulf countries. So do these events suggest that Ankara is becoming more assertive in its foreign policy? Or is this the reaction of a country that finds itself isolated and is being forced to act in order to preserve its interests? Does Turkey still see a future in NATO? And what is the long term vision of president Erdogan; are his critics right to accuse him of trying to return the country to its Ottoman past?
Governments across Europe have this week introduced new measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reports that over the past fortnight five countries have reported over 120 cases per 100,000 residents, including Spain, France, and the Czech Republic. But the increased restrictions on freedom of movement and congregation in many countries is sparking push-back from some, who argue that the elderly should be shielded - while the rest of society returns to some semblance of normality. It’s a suggestion British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected this week during an address to the nation. He said such a policy wouldn’t be ‘realistic’ - insisting widespread transmission of the virus would inevitably see infection rates rise in vulnerable communities too. But after months of effectively being locked away from the outside world, many of those who’ve been shielding from the virus are now showing signs of adverse physical and mental health problems due to isolation. So as the pandemic grinds on, are attempts to protect the elderly from exposure to the coronavirus prompting other health crises - and what can be done to keep them safe and happy? Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss - what is the best approach for the elderly?
Millions have been left without work as the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate economies across the globe. This week, there’s been a sharp rise in the unemployment rate in Britain. This follows recent increases in other European countries. The International Labour Organisation has warned the pandemic is having a “devastating and disproportionate” impact on youth employment. In the United States, unemployment remains above 10 percent in black and Hispanic communities. After India’s lockdown ended, many living in cities have found their old jobs gone - with former office workers, builders, drivers and factory workers left scrambling to find alternative employment. But analysts warn that the longer the crisis goes on, the more jobs simply won’t return - replaced, they say, by automation or artificial intelligence solutions that don’t get sick and don’t need to socially distance. And while this trend existed before Covid, there are signs the virus has brought forward an employment challenge many governments had hoped to address years down the line. So how can governments minimise job losses, help retrain those whose past careers have gone, and make sure younger workers are prepared for the jobs of the future - all during a time of reduced revenue from taxation and ballooning deficits? Dan Damon and a panel of experts discuss what should be done about rising unemployment in the age of Covid-19?
Given the continuing high cost to societies of the coronavirus pandemic in lost lives and economic hardship, dozens of potential vaccines are being developed and tested at record pace. The top US infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, says it’s unlikely but "not impossible" that a Covid-19 vaccine could win approval in October - an aim championed by President Trump. But there are growing concerns that the speed at which this is taking place may undercut public confidence in any vaccine produced. In the US, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she “would not trust Donald Trump” as the sole arbiter of whether a vaccine was safe and reliable. But even if a Covid-19 vaccine is ready soon, the WHO has warned that “vaccine nationalism” - which would see richer countries buying up the bulk of supplies leaving developing nations wanting - could extend the pandemic and delay a return to global economic growth. So how quickly could a vaccine be produced and distributed? And which people in which countries will get access to it first? Dan Damon and a panel of expert guests ask - when will we get a Covid-19 vaccine?
This week President Donald Trump retweeted a false claim posted by a follower of the ‘QAnon’ conspiracy theory, stating that the real Covid-19 death toll is just 6 percent of official figures. Twitter took down the tweet saying it breached their terms and conditions. It’s not the first time the president has promoted messages from supporters of the debunked conspiracy theory that claims - in part - that Mr Trump is leading a top-secret campaign to dismantle a global network of Satan worshipping cannibal paedophiles led by billionaires, celebrities and Democrats. Acts of violence have already been attributed to those backing the outlandish conspiracy theory and the FBI now considers the movement a domestic terrorism threat. While support for ‘Q’ - said to be an anonymous security official with inside knowledge - has been growing in the United States, followers are increasingly showing up in Europe and Latin America. So why has it spread to other countries and what are the QAnon links to foreign groups? Could supporters disrupt politics outside of the US? And is QAnon a harmless online fantasy or a dangerous threat to truth, democracy and public safety around the world? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts.
Alexei Navalny is Russia's best-known anti-corruption campaigner and opposition activist. Today he lies gravely ill in a Berlin hospital. The German doctors treating him say he appears to have been poisoned. Navalny has been a longstanding critic of President Vladimir Putin, and his anti-corruption activities have highlighted the huge asset holdings of Russia’s political elites. His online activism draws tens of thousands of people to the streets across the country in protest against a range of injustices. So what do we know about what has happened to Mr Navalny and his recent activities? Will his hospitalisation galvanise the opposition? And what of the timing - can the Kremlin afford a backlash now when Russia’s closest neighbour, Belarus, is gripped by anti-regime protests? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests to discuss how events have changed the picture in Russia.
India has entered a dangerous new phase of the pandemic. The country’s infection rate is the third-highest in the world. It also has the fourth-highest death toll. Testing is a shambles, and infections are moving into rural areas where healthcare is sorely lacking. Late in March, all of India's 1.3 billion people were told to stay at home while the government bought itself time to prepare for the pandemic. But instead of confining people where they were, the lockdown resulted in one of the biggest peace time migrations of people. Instead of helping to defeat the virus, it has created economic hardship for many. So why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi act so fast and can India now get the virus under control and the economy back on track? Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is still popular with many Indians, but his critics say he's using the coronavirus as a cover for the consolidation of power. Are they right? And will it accelerate a Hindu nationalist vision for the country that risks more religious unrest? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of commentators.
The US presidential election campaign is gathering steam, with the Democratic Party convention beginning next week. November's election in the United States will be taking place at a time when the country is going through unprecedented social and economic upheavals. The incumbent Donald Trump is pitted against the former vice president Joe Biden. It is not just the presidency that's at stake, voters will be electing a third of the senate, an entirely new house of representatives, and thirteen governors. More than 160,000 Americans have lost their lives to the Covid-19 pandemic. The economy is in recession. Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets demanding social justice. With the uncertainty of the coronavirus, there is no clear consensus on the way polling stations can ensure the safety of voters. While mass postal voting is being held up as a solution, many - including President Trump - argue that mail-in ballots will increase fraud and cause unnecessary delays. Others say various forms of voter suppression are already undermining the integrity of the vote. So as the first major election in the middle of a pandemic, how credible will the results in November be? How are allegations of voter suppression being addressed? And what will the candidates do if vote counting becomes a drawn out process? Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss whether American democracy is fit to handle the events the country finds itself in.
The coronavirus pandemic is having a growing impact on life in the Brazilian Amazon. Half a million indigenous people still live in often remote rainforest communities, yet many are still contracting Covid-19 and dying. The Munduruku people have already lost ten of their elders to the virus, a situation observers describe as akin to the destruction of a library or museum - so important are the ‘sábios’ - or sages - in passing on the community’s cultural heritage. The virus is also thought to have harmed anti-logging, anti-burning and anti-mining efforts around the rain-forest, with Brazil’s space agency identifying a large increase in the number of fires burning during the month of July compared to last year. This year the government has authorised the deployment of the military to combat deforestation and forest fires and also banned the setting of fires in the region for 120 days. But President Bolsonaro’s critics accuse him of underplaying the impact of coronavirus on the Amazon region and even exploiting the crisis for political gain. So is enough being done to support the country’s indigenous peoples? Will the Covid-19 speed up the clearing of the rainforest? And how is the crisis adding to the already volatile and polarised Brazilian political landscape? Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss what the virus is doing to Brazil's Amazon region.
Experts have warned that being obese or overweight puts you at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19. One study suggests the chances of dying from the coronavirus are 90% higher in those who are severely obese. This week British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sweeping plans to shrink waistlines, saying the virus had been a “wake-up call” on an issue that threatened public health even before the pandemic. According to the World Health Organisation obesity has nearly tripled worldwide since 1975 and is becoming an increasing problem in developing economies. Meanwhile Asian and black populations have been found to have a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease, conditions exacerbated by carrying excess weight. New measures in England include a ban on ‘buy one get one free’ deals, new curbs on the advertising of junk food, and a review of labelling on food and drinks sold in shops. But how much of an impact have these policies made when introduced elsewhere? Governments are increasingly introducing taxes on foods high in sugar in the hope of changing consumer behaviour and encouraging manufacturers to make their products healthier. But do such measures work? And how important is exercise in tackling the global obesity crisis? Join Ritula Shah and guests as they discuss whether fighting fat can help curb the coronavirus.
While the coronavirus pandemic is raging around the world, discussions over rebuilding the global economy are already underway. Globally, the recovery will cost trillions of dollars. Governments and finance ministries are working around the clock to design financial packages at a time when income from tax has hit rock bottom. There's concern that many governments will have to raise taxes to cope with the shortfall in revenue. But what if they could tap a different source of funding? According to the Tax Justice Network, there are trillions of dollars' worth of cash and other assets tucked away in offshore tax havens belonging to both private individuals and large corporations. Some people are now saying that with the coronavirus crisis, governments can no longer afford to go without the vast amount of tax revenue they lose each year. So, could a small tax on that money fund the global recovery? What challenges need to be overcome to bring together governments and multiple jurisdictions to agree on a framework? Will it be possible to sift through layers of obfuscation to establish the exact amount of money that is held in tax havens – and how will diminishing their prominence change the world? Join Ritula Shah and guests as they discuss whether tax havens should help pay for the pandemic recovery.
Young people may not be the most exposed to the health risks during the global coronavirus pandemic, but right around the world they will pay a high price in lost wages, opportunities and greater public debt - much of which they’ll have to service. Generations are forged through common experiences, and the bigger the shock of Covid-19 to the global economy, the greater the likelihood that it will become a defining event for Millennials, Generation Z and the next generation of young children. How will Covid-19 shape the mindset of those people just starting out in life and what can we learn from the formative events of past generations? How will gains by young people in developing countries be impacted by the pandemic? And as the virus further exposes intergenerational inequalities, could its legacy be a new conversation about how to fix them?
So far, people in cities have borne the brunt of Covid-19. Coronavirus thrives when humans interact in shared spaces where infections are easily transmitted. Because of this, many column inches have been dedicated to predicting the demise of urban living and a revival of suburbs, towns and villages. But the fact remains the majority of us live in urban settings and people will need to keep seeking out the economic and social opportunities that cities provide. So, if cities are here to stay, how will coronavirus change them? Some aspects of city living that came in for criticism before the virus now seem unviable. Urban density was already a problem with so much cramped and scarce housing. Now, for many, it’s intolerable. Long commutes on dirty, crowded public transport will no longer do. Cars, roads and parking lots claiming vast outdoor areas no longer makes sense if we are to spend more time outdoors. And, in developing world cities, how much longer can poor sanitation and lack of running water be ignored when neglecting basic infrastructure will likely lead to new deadly outbreaks? Policy makers have, in the past, flirted with tackling the big problems in cities - but these problems haven’t gone away. So in the end, will the pandemic force drastic changes to urban design? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests.
The internet has proven invaluable during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing us to continue to work and learn from home, disseminating information to concerned citizens and providing desperately needed social contact for those cut off from family and friends. Before the pandemic, it seemed the internet was increasingly becoming an angry and cold place, providing a platform for selfish pursuits and amplifying extreme views and behaviour. That still goes on, of course, but is the pivot to more altruistic activities online an opportunity to consider again the potential of the internet and what it's for? A string of data scandals over recent years has prompted calls for greater regulation of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon. But three decades on from the creation of the World Wide Web, is now the time to discuss more sweeping reforms? Proposals are now emerging that could radically change the way the internet works, how your data is managed, who’ll be able to make money, and even challenge the very concept that “the internet should be free”. Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests to discuss whether the coronavirus-era internet that has brought people together and even thrown us a lifeline might be the internet we wanted all along. If so, how can we build on the moment and make it even better?
Black protesters across the United States and the world have been joined by white people calling for lasting change in the way societies deal with systemic racism. But this isn’t the first time a cross-section of society has voiced its desire for radical action on race. In most instances calls for revolution die down and the moment brings only incremental change. So what else can history teach us? South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up after the fall of apartheid in the 1990's and was praised for its ability to bring to light the facts surrounding black oppression in the country. So are white allies of black and other ethnic minority communities in the US, UK and other countries gripped by protest now willing to engage with their own difficult truths? Will they embrace policies that target racial inequality and a greater redistribution of government funds - polices that would reduce their own families’ access to opportunity? As the economic crisis sparked by the pandemic leaves record numbers out of work, will the coalition of voters taking to the streets still have the same priorities when they go to the polls? When it comes to addressing systemic racism, who are the allies of black activists - and what is their role now?
The death of the African-American man, George Floyd, in police custody - and the subsequent protests and riots - will look familiar to anyone who’s followed American history. This week also marked the 99th anniversary of an incident known as the ‘Tulsa Race Massacre’, in which a white mob killed hundreds of black people in a part of the Oklahoma city referred to as the ‘Black Wall Street’. Decades later, Congress passed civil rights legislation, and in 2008 the United States elected its first black president - superficially, big steps. But since then there has been a wave of police killings of young black men. The anger expressed on the streets of more than 140 US cities this week demonstrates not enough has changed. Ritula Shah is joined by a cross-generational panel of black activists and academics to assess the way forward. Have the tactics used to change minds and laws after previous deaths in police custody had any success? What are the structural obstacles to black progress and how can they be dismantled? Given all the anger and false dawns, what should black Americans do next?
On Saturday a private company will attempt to deliver astronauts into orbit for the first time - with the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station. Other big space projects planned by private companies include tourism, commercial space stations, a return to the Moon, habitats on Mars and even the mining of asteroids. National space agencies may partner with the private sector to reduce short-term costs and spread risks, but what will be the long-term impact of new technologies and intellectual property being by owned by companies and not states? What laws are in place to police what is and isn’t allowed to be constructed in orbit? And as the United States, Europe, China, Japan and India all compete to pass new milestones in the exploration of our solar system, would a more collaborative approach be of greater value to humanity? Or is Cold War-like competition exactly what’s needed to spark innovation? In the end, will the private sector dominate the future of Space?
Many governments are beginning to ease restrictions placed on us aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus. Until a vaccine is widely available, the fear of contracting Covid-19 and becoming seriously ill as a result, will remain a very real one. And as more schools, shops and workplaces begin to re-open, we’re all increasingly going to have to make decisions about the amount of risk we’re willing to take. Our fear of threats and the unknown is part of being human. But so too is our desire to hug our loved ones and meet new people. And yet these once ordinary social activities are now tainted by risk. Will we decide to abandon them? Many parents fear sending their children back to school, but may also worry whether staying at home will harm their education. How should they weigh up the risks? Staying at home for months on end may reduce the risk of becoming infected with the virus, but what are the risks to mental health from taking that more cautious approach? As the lockdowns end, how will managing risk and overcoming fear affect how we live? How will it affect what we understand to be rational, to be normal, and to be human?
The normal functioning of societies has been strained by the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing curbs on our freedom of movement, commerce, trade and employment. So what impact has Covid-19 had on organised crime? In some communities, gangs have stepped in to provide food, medication and other emergency assistance to families struggling to make ends meet. Money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, says the pandemic has resulted in an increase in “fraud, cyber-crime, misdirection or exploitation of government funds or international financial assistance”. The United Nations says border closures and flight cancellations have disrupted distribution chains for illegal drugs such as heroin. History tells us criminals can thrive in a crisis. During the Great Depression in the US, the mob moved from bootlegging into gambling and prostitution and the Italian Mafia and Japanese Yakuza grew during the huge displacement of people after World War Two. So, will similar trends emerge in 2020? Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss how the coronavirus pandemic will change the workings of organised crime.
Most industries around the world have been shaken by the coronavirus, but few have been quite as devastated as the airline industry. IATA, which represents about 290 airlines around the world, says the airline industry could lose $314bn due to the outbreak, as planes are grounded and entire routes abandoned. Aviation employs millions of people and underpins the livelihoods of tens of millions more. So can it recover? Past crises like the 9/11 terror attacks transformed the flying experience and the pandemic will do the same, but how so? Can the world’s airports provide a safe travel experience while keeping passengers moving? What happens to societies - to business trips and leisure activities - when people can no longer be mobilised to and from airports in vast numbers? And what happens to our relationships with each other - and to other places - if the cost of travel becomes unaffordable for most? Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss whether air travel will ever been the same.
Governments everywhere are increasing mass surveillance as part of efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Whether it’s a smartphone app that traces who you’ve been in contact with, public sensors that can tell if you’re running a temperature, or cameras equipped with facial recognition technology capable of instantaneously identifying you while walking down the street. In China, drones are being deployed to help police public spaces, while colour codes are used to determine who’s allowed out in public. So, is a loss of personal privacy that accompanies such measures a reasonable price to pay for recovery? A report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change concludes that it is. But critics are calling for a better debate before our societies become transformed. Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss whether we are entering an era where constant surveillance becomes the new normal. Are we giving up our privacy too readily? Or is this the only way to defeat a virus that's destroying lives and economies?
China was first country to suffer the effects of Coronavirus, but a few months on, it has contained the worst of the outbreak in a way the United States and most European countries have not. The Chinese economy is bracing for the first year on year economic decline for more than forty years, but western countries are projected to fare even worse. Before the pandemic, the US-China trade war had already amplified rivalries between the world’s two biggest economies, so will Covid-19 accelerate the shift in power and influence from west to east? China has been trying to increase the size of its domestic economy but the country is still reliant on exports, especially to the United States and Europe. So will that continue, or will the pandemic end hyper-globalisation and China’s place at the heart of global manufacturing? And will China turn its economy around and help the recovery of the United States and Europe or will it use the crisis to seek economic and strategic advantage? Join Dan Damon and guests as they discuss whether China will come out of the Coronavirus crisis on top.
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Podcast Details

Created by
Podcast Status
Aug 28th, 2015
Latest Episode
Oct 23rd, 2020
Release Period
Avg. Episode Length
About 1 hour

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