BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: From the web team

Archives for August 2008

Friday, 29 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 17:38 UK time, Friday, 29 August 2008

Our thought-provoking series on immigration concludes tonight and after the Doric splendour of the Obama set address, it's John McCain's turn to wow the American nation. With more, here's Emily

Sarah Palin for VP:

How do you stop a youthful, multi-ethnic, charismatic speaker from becoming America's first ever black president? Well, if you're Republican rival John McCain, you think it's with the help of a woman nearly thirty years younger than you, with five children. After all the speculation over the Mitts and Mikes of the Republican primaries becoming his VP, the announcement came out of the blue. Sarah Palin - who has been the governor of Alaska for just two years - has just been confirmed as his chosen one.

Will her social conservatism, her youth and her, well, novelty value, give his campaign just the tension and the kick it needs to take him into the Republican Convention and beyond? Or will it be an own goal for the Republicans? The Democrats argue that her age, inexperience and back-story make Barack Obama look positively mature.

We'll have the latest from Peter Marshall in the United States and bring you that debate live here tonight.

Illegal Immigration:

Is it ever possible to clamp down entirely on illegal immigration? Tonight, in the last of this formidable series on the subject we focus on the ease with which forged documents can be obtained that give immigrants the right to work here. Many of the documents are convincing enough to stand up to basic scrutiny - indeed, that's why so many find work so easily. We look at the scams that are being used, and ask if you can ever make the system watertight enough to stop them.

Join us this evening at 10.30pm on BBC2.


Is it possible to stop illegal immigration?

Stuart Denman | 11:55 UK time, Friday, 29 August 2008

Throughout this week Newsnight has been dealing with the issue of illegal immigration in Britain. Independent journalist Sorious Samura has produced three fascinating reports on the subject, involving undercover filming to test the boundaries of the British immigration system.

The series concludes this evening with a look at how easy it is for some illegal immigrants to obtain false documents which allow them to work in the UK.

You can watch the first two films online and we'll be discussing the issues all three films raise in tonight's programme, including the main question - is it actually possible to stop illegal immigration into the UK?

Let us know your views on the issue.

Prospects for Friday, 29 August, 2008

ADMIN USE ONLY | 10:09 UK time, Friday, 29 August 2008

Here are programme producer Robert's prospects for tonight's programme:

Good morning everyone,

There's quite a bit around today. We have the last film in our really strong immigration series. Let's discuss who we should have in a discussion on the findings.

After Obama's speech last night it's now over to McCain. He's expected to announce his VP running mate. Peter and Ben are on the case. How would you like us to do this story?

Any other thoughts for stories welcome.

See you soon,


Thursday, 28 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 17:50 UK time, Thursday, 28 August 2008

Our series on immigration continues tonight as does the Democratic convention. With more, here's Kirsty.


We kick off with the second film in our Immigration Game series. Last night the award-winning independent journalist Sorious Samura explored the routes that illegal immigrants take to get into the country. Tonight, he investigates one of the ways they find work - by cloning other people's identities. He manages to secure employment using someone else's papers. It's worth watching.

You can watch his first film online - click here.


Russia has been told it could face sanctions from the EU over its actions in Georgia. There is still a Russian military presence in Georgia - beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Today the Georgian President said that Georgians in the two provinces were being pushed out by the Russians. I'll be speaking to the Georgian President Saakashvili and asking him why he started a war he could not win.


Last night Bill Clinton gave his wholehearted backing to the man who knocked his wife out of the race to be Democratic nominee. Tonight the cavalcade moves from the convention centre to the huge stadium a mile away - the home of the Denver Broncos - where Barack Obama will accept the nomination in front of 75,000 people - and make American history. But what does he have to do in the next 11 weeks to reach the White House? Gavin and David Grossman will be live at the stadium with a stellar line-up of guests.


And finally: cut price Titians - on offer to Scotland and England at the knock down price of £100 million - a third of what they would be expected to reach on the open market. The seller, the Duke of Sutherland, wants the National Galleries of Scotland and England to share the two masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance - Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto. They have both been on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland since 1945. Should some of the money come from the public purse or, in these times of economic stringency, can we not afford to keep them on public display? We'll be discussing that live with a well-known British artist. Do let us know what you think via our website or if you have any ideas on who could be persuaded to cough up for the paintings on behalf of the state!


Prospects for Thursday, 28 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 10:21 UK time, Thursday, 28 August 2008

Kavita is back in the hot seat today and, despite the brevity of her morning e-mail below, is in very talkative mood about tonight's Newsnight. Do ensure your own thoughts about what should go into the programme reach her by posting your comments below.

Good morning.

Team America has another great line up for us which I'll discuss in the meeting.

We have the second Sorious Samura film - how illegal immigrants get work using cloned identities. It's strong stuff.

There are some other good stories - house prices, possible sanctions against Russia, Titian - let's discuss what else you'd like to do.

See you at 10:30.

Wednesday, 27 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 19:02 UK time, Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Here's Kirsty's round up of what's being prepared for tonight's programme...

Dear viewers,

Sorry for the lateness of this e mail. I have been at the Russian Embassy interviewing the Charge d'Affaires about David Miliband's Kiev speech, in which the Foreign Secretary warned the Russian President not to start a Cold War, and made an explicit threat that Europe should reduce its dependency on Russia for its gas supplies.

It seems direct retaliation for President Medvedev's recognition of the two Georgian breakaway provinces but our Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban will be analysing the speech.

Was it a measured strategic response or was it full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

We'll be hearing direct from the White House, when - in a very rare interview - I'll be speaking live to the US President's senior spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Then we will have the first in a major series of films on illegal immigration from the award-winning investigative journalist Sorious Samura.

Tonight he reveals the often dangerous route by which many illegal immigrants make it into this country. And follows the authorities in their attempts to stem the flow.

Following that, we join Gavin at the Democratic Convention in Denver where the delegates are awaiting the second coming ... by which I mean the arrival of another Clinton.

Last night Hillary urged her supporters to swing in behind Barack Obama. In a carefully crafted, powerful speech she called on Democrats to unite but studiously avoided praising the man who put an end to her White House dreams, this time round at least.

Will Bill Clinton put the final piece of the jigsaw in place, with a tribute to Obama himself? Gavin will be speaking to Tom Daschle, the co-chair of the Obama campaign.

I hope you'll be watching,


Prospects for Wednesday, 27 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 10:56 UK time, Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Good morning. Well, Hillary has spoken and Bill's up next. Gavin's still in Denver and Kirsty is in London for tonight's programme - here's today's output editor Shaminder with more:

Hello everyone,

We have the first of our series of films on illegal immigration from investigative journalist Sorious Samura. Tonight he reveals the route which many illegal immigrants take to get into this country.

There's more of course from our team in Denver. Bill Clinton and Joe Biden are speaking today.

And David Miliband is off to Ukraine.

Anything else?

See you in a minute,

Tuesday, 26 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 22:12 UK time, Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Gavin is in Denver awaiting Hillary Clinton's speech while Kirsty is in London - here's her round up of what's being prepared for tonight's programme.

Newsnight has a rich mix tonight, including from the Democratic Convention in Denver, Hillary Clinton's speech and an interview with Barack Obama's half-sister.

But we begin with these words by the Russian President, Dimitri Medvedev: "We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a new Cold War." The statement came just hours after Medvedev recognised the independence of the two Georgian provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Georgian Government says this amounts to an annexation by Russia and further strains already difficult relations between Russia and the West. Tonight the BBC's Diplomatic Editor speaks to the Russian President, and Mark Urban will be analysing whether this is a genuine threat or posturing by the Russians. Then we will have a Foreign Office Minister, the Russian Ambassador to the EU and a senior Obama advisor - formerly in the Clinton administration - on live to talk about this latest chapter in the Georgian crisis.

Then it is over to Gavin in Denver where he will be reporting on Hillary Clinton's crucial speech to the Convention. She has already registered her support for Obama but will her words tonight convince her truculent supporters to fall in behind her? We'll be speaking to one of the most powerful men in the Clinton team, Terry McAuliffe and then Gavin will be speaking to Barack Obama's half-sister.

Finally a political row is growing over Gordon Brown's plans for an autumn economic relaunch, with more than 80 Labour MPs signing a petition calling for a Windfall tax - and soon. Compass, who are organising the petition, claim that seven government ministers back the move - but can't show their colours. We've asked our Economics Editor Paul Mason to find out the truth of Labour's economic rescue package.

Prospects for Tuesday, 26 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 12:19 UK time, Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Good morning. Fresh back from the bank holiday, the production team came in to the following e-mail from today's output editor, Dan. Do add your comments and suggestions below on Denver, South Ossetia, Gordon Brown, data loss, and anything else that takes your interest today...

Hello all.

We have Gavin Esler and David Grossman in Denver, and a very good line up of guests - including Terry McAuliffe and Obama's half-sister. I'll explain the packages and interviews that we have - there is quite a lot of production work involved at this end.

A huge amount is now riding on Brown's economic recovery plan for this autumn. The Unions and a large number of Labour MPs (and some junior Government members) are openly lobbying for a windfall tax but what are the Chancellor's options and what is he likely to do? Which guests would you like on this?

The eBay data loss story is interesting - how could we move this on? We should watch the markets - especially in the US where Lehman Brothers seems to be under some pressure.

What else?

See you at 10.30.


Friday, 22 August, 2008

Ian Lacey | 17:49 UK time, Friday, 22 August 2008

Thanks for your comments on plans for this evening's programme. I think I've managed to get the date right this time... Mr Gavin Esler is your host - no Review this week - here's his rundown of what we have planned.

"Today's Quote for the Day

"I'm stupefied." - London Mayor Boris Johnson on learning that he is a direct descendant of George II.

And we'll have more quotes from Boris Johnson in the programme as I ask him about London's hopes for the 2012 Olympics - he tells me it will come in "under Budget" which is a remarkable promise - and he will also be discussing his view that politicians who say we have a broken society are talking "piffle". I point out to the mayor that the man who most often uses the term "broken society" is the leader of the Conservative party, David Cameron.

sale203.jpgWe'll lead however on news that the economy has ground to a halt - figures out today show stagnation for the quarter between April and June. We'll debate what to do next with a Treasury minister and one of the Conservative Treasury team.

Plus we're keeping an eye out for Barack Obama's vice presidential choice amid rumours we could hear about it tonight.


Prospects - Friday, 22 August, 2008

Ian Lacey | 10:11 UK time, Friday, 22 August 2008

Morning all. Last night the Newsnight team partied - complete with Karaoke - to mark the departure of several members of staff, including Mr Barron and the web team's Brian Thornton. Brian leaves us to impart his knowledge to journalism undergraduates. We wish him well.

Despite losing such talented staff (long serving/suffering producer Lucy Watkinson and top cameraman Matt Leiper were also given a rousing send off last night) Newsnight continues apace and tonight's programme producer is Robert Morgan. Here's his very brief brief for the bleary-eyed team today.

"Good morning everyone,

There are a number of good stories today. There's the data loss story and we also have a good interview on the Olympics. Developments in Pakistan look interesting. Do come to the morning meeting with ideas on these stories and any others you think we should be doing.

And let's keep an eye Obama, who is expected to name his vice-presidential running mate today.


Your comments and suggestions for what we should look at on the programme tonight are of course welcome and encouraged.

And no, I left before the singing started so cannot pass on any details...

Thursday, 21 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 18:30 UK time, Thursday, 21 August 2008

Here is Kirsty's look ahead to tonight's programme:

Gordon Brown has been in Afghanistan today en route for Beijing - meeting President Karzai in Kabul, but first talking to UK troops in Helmand province where Taleban fighters have upped their attacks on NATO forces, in a determined and ruthless new strategy, fuelled by money from the poppy harvest. Today three Canadian soldiers were killed while doing reconnaissance, following the deaths two days ago of ten French soldiers in a Taleban ambush. The Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to ending the conflict in Afghanistan but seven years on, can coalition forces in the country - of which there are around eight thousand British troops - ever beat the Taleban, or is negotiation the only way forward? I'll be speaking to the Defence Secretary live.

A British resident held in Guantanamo Bay facing terrorism charges today won a court ruling that the UK government is under a duty to disclose material to Binyam Mohamed's legal team which he says supports his case that evidence against him was obtained through torture. Mohamed is facing a US military trial and possibly the death penalty if found guilty. During the recent hearing of the case Dinah Rose QC for Mr Mohamed said he was tortured following his detention in Pakistan and then "rendered" to Morocco where he alleges he was repeatedly slashed in the genitals with a razor blade. The judges found that the British security service had colluded in the unlawful detention of Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan.

Crash investigators have recovered the black box date recorder from the Spanair flight which crashed at Madrid airport yesterday on takeoff killing one hundred and fifty three people on board. We'll have the latest from the Spanish capital.

And we'll be taking a look at the impact the internet has had on the race for the White House - it can build grassroots support as never before, but is also the perfect vehicle for attack ads and smears. Plus I'll be speaking live to the author of the current New York Times bestseller "The Obama Nation". Jerome R Corsi claims that Barack Senior was an alcoholic polygamist who abandoned his pregnant wife in Africa before marrying Obama's mother in Hawaii and then leaving her behind there with their son. Corsi claims Obama's relatives are the sources for much of his information which is repeated here - apparently at second hand. So is this a thorough piece of investigative work - or a hatchet job?

Do join us at 10:30


Extract from A World Without Bees

Brian Thornton | 18:19 UK time, Thursday, 21 August 2008

On Newsnight Stephen Smith investigated the mysterious disappearance of bees in the UK. It's a subject which is causing a great deal of concern - Here is an extract from the recently published A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum:

Why a book about a world without bees?

For as far as the eye can see everything is pale pink. The valley that stretches across central California for the best part of 500 miles is blanketed with salmon-coloured orchards.

Welcome to almond country. The trees -- all 60-odd million of them -- are heavy with blossom. Other than a constant stream of cars and trucks along Route 5 and ubiquitous fast food joints hugging the highway, there is little else to see in this flat, monotonous landscape, other than row upon row upon row of the blossom-bearing trees.

When we told people we were coming here for research, the usual response was "Wow, that's going to be beautiful". They were right about the "wow" factor, almond-growing on this scale is mind-boggling. But where is the beauty in such a regimented landscape?

The trees are planted in symmetrical rows, at regular intervals, so many inches apart. Early-blooming and late-blooming varieties are laid out in separate blocks, in uniform, repetitive patterns. Coupled with improvements in irrigation, better pest and disease control, and the development of high-yield crops, this standardised, large-scale method of producing a single crop, known as monoculture, has become the hallmark of modern, efficient agriculture.

Adopted across the globe, it has led to substantial increases in the world's food supply. Yet few crops can match the inexorable rise of the Californian almond, which is now the United States' most valuable horticultural export. Last year, more than $1.9bn worth of Californian almonds were sent to the global marketplace, more than double the revenue from its Napa Valley wine exports. In fact, 80% of the world's almonds now come from the sunshine state.

This was not the case just 30 years ago when an acre of almond orchard produced around 500 pounds in weight of nuts. Today, average yields six times that -- 3,000 pounds of nuts per acre -- are not unusual. But it is not just better management or new varieties that explain these record-breaking harvests.

If you look closely at the blossom-laden branches you will see the reason for the explosion of fruit. And if you listen you will hear the unmistakeable buzz that accompanies the diligent work involved. For each flower has on it a honeybee. She is drinking its sweet nectar. As she crawls around to find the perfect sucking position, her furry body is dusted with beads of pollen that are transferred from blossom to blossom as she flies from one to another, pollinating the plant in her search for more nectar. The plant's ovaries swell into fruit, which by late August are ripe, oval-shaped nuts.

The Apis mellifera, or western honeybee, as it's more commonly known, has been revered for thousands of years for its ability to make a deliciously sweet substance that has delighted the human palate since prehistoric times. The earliest record of humans' use ofhoney is a cave painting in Valencia, Spain, that depicts a man climbing a cliff to rob a swarm of wild bees. It is dated to 15,000 years ago, just after the ice age, and the love affair has continued ever since. The Greeks and Romans called honey the food of the gods, and Egyptian pharaohs had it buried in their funeral vaults. Cleopatra ensured its rejuvenating powers became legendary with her baths of asses' milk and honey, and its medicinal qualities, which were used to heal wounds before the event of modern medicine, are still prized today for soothing coughs.

But the honeybee has an even more important role -- as nature's master pollinator. All flowering plants need animals to pollinate them and the honeybee is perfectly engineered to perform the task, with a body designed to trap pollen and a methodical work ethic that leaves no petal unturned. Without the honeybee all the vitality and colour of the planet would be lost. A point that is well illustrated in Jerry Seinfeld's animated film, Bee Movie, in which Central Park is reduced to a grey, barren wilderness when the bees go on strike.

And it's not just pretty blossoms we need to thank honeybees for. Approximately one third of all the food we eat is pollinated by them.
Nuts, soybeans, onions, carrots, broccoli and sunflowers all require honeybee pollination, as do numerous fruits including apples, oranges, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, melons, avocados and peaches. Alfalfa, the clover-like plant widely grown as cattle feed is also dependent on the honeybee, as is cotton. In all, some 90 different crops worldwide are pollinated by honeybees. Globally, that makes honeybee pollination worth more than $60bn a year, of which some $15bn is in the US alone, according to a Cornell University study.

Pollination is big business and nowhere more so than across the 600,000 acres of Californian almond trees. Each February, they play host to around 1.2 million honeybee colonies. Each acre houses two hives, which is around 80,000 bees per acre, or more than 40 billion bees in total, making it the largest pollination in history.

We'd been told it was a truly amazing spectacle. But unlike the sight of tens of thousands of migratory birds flying south for the winter, the arrival of billions of honeybees to the warm climes of California's Central Valley is not a natural phenomenon. They are guided neither by the position of the sun, nor by the Earth's magnetic fields. Instead they are driven thousands of miles on the backs of huge trucks from the far corners of the United States, their hives stacked five-high.

Half of all the 2.5 million honeybee colonies in the US make this annual cross-country trek from as far afield as Massachusetts in the east and Florida in the south. They are now joined in the Central Valley orchards by honeybees flown in from Australia to boost the numbers taking part in this mammoth event.

And it doesn't end there. California is just the first port of call on most of these bees' five-month criss-cross tour of North America to more than 3.5 million acres of orchards and fields. After three weeks spent feeding on almond nectar, many will be back on the trucks heading south to the citrus plantations of Florida, then north for apples and cherries, and as far east as Maine for the blueberries.

This intensive, migratory beekeeping is a far cry from the hobby we pursue in our small back garden in south London. The only move for our bees was from the apiary where we collected them to the spot by the wall where their hive has sat for a couple of years. From this sheltered location, they happily forage from spring right through to the end of autumn for nectar and pollen among the parks, gardens, railway sidings and tree-lined roads that dot the Battersea landscape. In the process they make enough honey to keep us and them well fed throughout the year.

There is something magical about watching your bees return home after a hard day's foraging on a balmy summer evening. For many urban apiarists who work all day in an office, they are an antidote to the stresses of city life. Creating a rural idyll in a corner of a housing estate was our small way of trying to reconnect with nature. It fulfilled something we knew was missing from our lives, a feeling we couldn't quite put our finger on, but is now being termed "nature-deficit disorder".

We had also heard about the vital role honeybees play by pollinating food and flowers but that they were under threat because of the same combination of factors that afflicts much of our wildlife in Britain -- urban development, loss of biodiversity and destruction of their habitat. So giving bees a home in the city felt as if we were doing our bit for the environment.

There is nothing vaguely eco-friendly, however, about trucking millions of bees thousands of miles across the States. The contrast between our "back to nature" vision of keeping bees and the harsh reality of commercial beekeeping is unfathomable.

What is happening in California is nothing short of the industrialisation of pollination. And like any industry it is driven by profit. In a good year commercial apiarists can clear $100,000 and the farmers' income rises as yields increase.

Joe Traynor is a bee broker. For six weeks every year, his company Scientific Ag match-makes migratory apiarists with Californian almond farmers in need of bees. It is testimony to the scale of the almond industry that it has spawned a new career for Traynor and other former beekeepers.

But now it, and other crop pollination, is threaten by a mysterious illness that has led to the disappearance of millions of honeybees around the world and is fuelling fears of an environmental crisis bigger than climate change.

Albert Einstein is thought to have said: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

In truth, it is more likely to have been French beekeepers who put these words posthumously into Einstein's mouth a few years ago during a fierce battle to get a pesticide (more of which later) banned from their country.

Whoever said it, the apocalyptic sentiment chimes with the view that bees are the "canary in the coalmine", a barometer for the health of the planet, and that their predicament is a warning to us all.

In the past two years, around a third of all honeybees in the States have mysteriously vanished -- around 800,000 hives. Some commercial beekeepers have reported losses of up to 90% since the end of 2006. The disappearance, which has baffled researchers and academics, is not limited to the States. Large numbers of colonies have also been wiped out in parts of Canada, Europe, Asia and South America. In Croatia, it was reported that five million bees disappeared in less than 48 hours.

Bees have a sophisticated navigation system that uses the sun and landmarks as points of reference. It allows them to travel up to three miles from the hive in search of food without losing their way back home. They are able to direct other bees in their hive to the food source through a remarkable form of communication called the "waggle dance".

But in a hive suffering from this strange plague, the adult bees do not return home, leaving their queen, eggs and larvae to starve to death. Moreover, young nurse bees, whose job it is to stay in the hive and care for the new brood while the adults are out searching for food, desert their post and fly away. Such a dereliction of duty is unheard of unless the bee is diseased and leaves the hive to prevent it from infecting others.

When news of the vanishing bees, a phenomenon soon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), started to filter through in newspaper reports at the beginning of 2007, some of the more fanciful theories for their disappearance ranged from cell phones messing up their navigation system to an elaborate al-Qaida plot to wreck US agriculture.

Although no one knew for sure what was causing the bees to perish, it spurred the launch of a global investigation. More credible suspects included exposure to genetically modified crops, pesticide poisoning, invasive parasites, malnutrition from pollinating vast tracts of crops with little nourishment, and the stress of being moved long distances.

Entomologists were convinced that the culprit was either a new virus, a virus that had mutated into a more virulent strain, or a virus that had combined forces with another pathogen, such as a fungus, to create an AIDS-like virus that destroyed the bees' immune system.

To date, a CCD working group in the States, made up of scientists from six universities and led by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), has focused its efforts on trying to identify a virus or fungus.

A team led by Pennsylvania State University, the Pennsylvania State Department of Agriculture and Columbia University made a breakthrough in September 2007 when they linked CCD with a virus that was identified in 96% of the hives affected by the disorder. But Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), which was first discovered in Israel in 2004, may prove to be a symptom rather than the cause. By recreating CCD in healthy hives, scientists hope to be able to determine what's triggering it.

With billions of dollars at stake, and the further expansion of the Californian almond crop in peril, the US government has approved increased funding totalling around $85m for bee research. But apiarists increasingly believe that the scientists, supported by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense, are backing the wrong horse.

Dave Hackenberg, the Pennsylvania beekeeper who first discovered CCD in his Florida hives in November 2006, puts pesticides in the dock. He argues that bees have had viruses for years but a new type of nicotine-based pesticide is breaking down their immune system and causing CCD.

Imidacloprid is his prime suspect. Not licensed in the US until 1994, it is now found almost everywhere from front lawns to apple orchards and sunflower fields. Bayer CropScience, the manufacturer, denies that its product is responsible for CCD and cites studies that support its conclusion. But other studies in France and Italy found that the chemical disorientates bees, impairs their memory and communication and causes nervous system disorders. The French government was so concerned that it backed protests by French beekeepers and partially banned imidaclopridin 1999, pending further studies. Brazil has also pulled it from its shelves.

Many experienced beekeepers support Hackenberg's thesis, but scientists remain unconvinced. If pesticides are the culprit, they ask, why have bees disappeared from areas where no pesticides are used?

Instead, they point the finger at beekeepers for overworking and under nourishing their bees. Hackenberg's 2,200 hives were logging 5,500 miles a year on the road before he lost two thirds of them to CCD. In his defence, he says it hasn't troubled the bees before in all the 30 years that he's been doing it.

Bees have been disappearing long before pesticides or the stresses of modern life were invented. The first recorded unexplained loss was in the United States in 1869, and thereafter large numbers mysteriously vanished in the US and Australia at intervals throughout the 19th century. Between 1905 and 1919, an epidemic wiped out 90% of the honeybee colonies on the Isle of Wight in the UK. Throughout the 20th century, large-scale losses were reported throughout the States, and in neighbouring Canada and Mexico. Then as now, the main suspects were colony mismanagement, deficiencies in bees' diet and chemicals in the environment, but the mystery was never solved.

Today's scientists are confident that, armed with many new tools of detection, such as a complete mapping of the honeybee genome and modern molecular techniques, they will be able to nail the culprit behind this latest outbreak. But more than a year after they began their investigations, they are still following leads and are unable to point to one single cause.

Meanwhile, US beekeepers are reporting a second year of CCD. Hackenberg, who restocked after losing two thirds of his bees in the winter of 2006/07, was dismayed to find that 80% of his colonies had vanished again when he opened his hives in Florida in November2007.

If bees continue disappearing at this rate, it is estimated that by 2035 there will no honeybees left in the US. In the UK, an 11% decline in honeybees is not officially attributed to CCD, but that hasn't stopped the farming minister, Lord Rooker, from warning that its 260,000 colonies could disappear from its shores in 10 years' time.

There is a province of China where life already exists without bees -- the uncontrolled use of pesticides in southern Sichuan is reported to have killed them off in the 1980s. As a result, the area's pear trees have to be pollinated by hand; a slow, labour-intensive process that comes nowhere near to matching the bees' productivity in pollinating three million flowers a day. If such a process was tried in the US, it would cost an estimated $90bn a year.

In addition to fewer, and more expensive, fruit and vegetables in the shops, no honeybees means no honey. Although migratory beekeepers have raised the alarm about bee disappearances, there are already reports of honey production being affected by large-scale bee loses in Argentina, one of the world's largest exporters of honey.

Undeterred, scientists are now exploring a hi-tech solution to the vanishing Apis mellifera. They want to engineer a new, virus-resistant super bee that would combine the hardiness of the aggressive Africanised bee with the docile nature of the western honeybee. While not beyond the realms of possibility, a such a bee is not a panacea. If we put our faith in a hi-tech fix, we are ignoring the bees' environmental wake-up call.

We wanted to write a book that alerted people to the wonders of the honeybee and unravelled the mystery of its disappearance. In all the excitement generated in the press about vanishing bees, had some basic questions been overlooked, and were scientists, in their desperate search for a virus to pin the disorder on, looking in the wrong? Why, for example, was a pesticide proven to be highly toxic to adult bees still widely used in most countries?

We chose California as a focal point because the almond orchards are a major crime scene -- most of the bees that disappear in the States have been here and mixed with other bees who suffered a similar fate. What happens in this corner of North America could hold clues to the worldwide wipe-out of bees. And with the number of bee experts likely to descend on this year's behemoth pollination operation, it was also the place to cross-examine key witnesses.

California also provides a horrifying glimpse into what the future could hold for honeybees -- if there are any left. Demand for honeybees here is projected to grow to 2.1 million colonies by 2012, nearly equal to all the colonies in the US.

So, to understand what is happening to the western honeybee, how we can urgently stop its demise, and what lessons this has for the future stewardship of the planet, our journey had to start in the Central Valley.

Prospects for Thursday, 21 August

Brian Thornton | 11:45 UK time, Thursday, 21 August 2008

Here are programme producer Richard's prospects for tonight:

Good morning everyone

Gordon Brown's in Afghanistan visiting troops ahead of attending the closing ceremony in Beijing. But with the situation in Afghanistan continuing to deteriorate, is this actually a war we can win?

We're expecting a High Court ruling any minute on whether the UK Government has to release evidence which British resident Binyam Mohamed - currently in Guantanamo awaiting trial - says supports his claim that the US is trying to convict him on evidence obtained under torture. Peter Marshall is on the case.

Katty Kay has a report looking at the key role the internet has played in the US election campaign. Could the medium that helped propel Obama to Democratic nominee also do damage to his campaign. Plus we have an interview with Jerome Corsi, author of the less-than-flattering biography "The Obama Nation".

Other stuff around - Madrid plane crash aftermath; GCSE results - large rise in A-Cs, big fall in entries.

And the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev - fresh from conducting in London last night - is flying out to South Ossetia to give a concert there.

Anything else you fancy - other domestic stories would be good.


Wednesday, 20 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 18:38 UK time, Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Here is Kirsty's look ahead to tonight's programme:

Hello viewers,

Tonight we will of course be keeping you up to date with the plane crash at Madrid's Barajas airport - a Spanair flight JK5022 taking off from Madrid to the Canary Islands. We've been told that it could turn out to be one of the worst European air crashes in the last 20 years. The plane had already made an aborted attempt to take off and following a mechanical review was attempting its second departure when it crashed.
Condoleezza Rice was in Warsaw to put her signature to America's pact with Poland for the siting of a US Missile Defence system on Polish soil. This pact has long been deliberated, but the crisis in Georgia may have been the defining factor - Russia has already warned Poland that this will make the country a target for a strike "100%". Does the Star Wars programme - launched by the then US President Ronald Reagan - lie behind the constantly simmering tension between the US and Russa, and is it worth the investment so far of $100 billion - when we really don't know if it would ever work?

There were huge hopes for Britain's biotech industry when the Genome was mapped in a blaze of publicity at the turn of the last century. It was hoped that it would cure many ills and make huge amounts of money for our science companies - so why has it gone so horribly wrong?

And with our great medals haul at Beijing, Sunday's closing celebrations will be watched by millions here in the UK -we have an eight minute slot in the Birds Nest stadium which will be watched by billions around the world. We are promised an old red double decker bus and a double act from Jimmy Page - but could we do better? What should London 2012's opening ceremony be? What image of Britain should we project? Please send us your ideas. Grayson Perry and Ken Livingstone will be on the show to give their thoughts

Prospects for Wednesday, 20 August

Brian Thornton | 11:27 UK time, Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Morning all, here are programme producer Dan's prospects for tonight:

Some good stories today.

Star Wars
Poland will finally sign up to the Missile Defence System with Condi Rice in Warsaw today, despite warnings from Russia that this will make them a target for a strike "100%". Does the "Star Wars" programme lie behind many of the recent tensions between Russia and the US? Will it upset the balance of power in Europe and after an investment of well over $100bn since the 1980s are the Pentagon much closer to an effective shield in any case?

Gary Glitter is holed up in a Thai airport; the government has announced new proposals on preventing sex offenders from travelling abroad, but why are so few of the existing laws enforced anyway? The Competition Commission verdict on BAA is particularly strong today - how could we move this on? We have a film on the high hopes and subsequent failures in the British Bio-tech sector and... what would make the perfect British Olympic opening ceremony in 2012? Is a double decker bus, David Beckham and Jimmy Page (all due respect to Peter B) the best we can do (the reported line up for Britain's eight minute slot during Sunday's closing ceremony)? Which guests could discuss this?


Tuesday, 19 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 18:12 UK time, Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Here is Emily's look ahead to tonight's programme:

Tonight a Newsnight exclusive: we have an extraordinary story about one of Britain's leading charities and its link to the 7/7 bombers.


Is it time to assess just what the NATO strategy really is on Russian aggression and just how strong the alliance is looking. Today Nato foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss a way forward on the situation in Georgia. They said there will be no business as usual with Moscow and then insisted Russia must not be isolated. What does this mean? And will divisions within the institution mean it is powerless to act decisively? Tonight, we'll be speaking to the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, now in Tbilisi, and asking what the future holds for new democracies and Nato.

Gordon Brown:

Is back from his holidays and preparing for an autumn relaunch. Will he have a spring in his step and new ideas after the summer break? We'll have the latest from our political correspondent.


And what, exactly, is going on? Even the pointiest pointy heads in our newsroom and elsewhere have been tuned into sport and roaring at the television. Britain now has 16 gold medals. Third in the medals table. What is this doing to the British psyche - and what does success do to the happiness of a nation. We'll hope to be speaking to a leading psychologist and Jeffrey Archer - one time sprinter and hurdler.

Do join us on BBC Two at 10.30pm

Prospects for Tuesday, 19 August

Brian Thornton | 10:27 UK time, Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Good morning, here are programme producer Robert's prospects for tonight:

"There are a few good stories around today. As Nato foreign ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the conflict between Russia and Georgia, there are few signs yet that Moscow is honouring its commitment on withdrawing its forces.

Let's discuss ways to do this story. Richard and Meirion have an extraordinary story which I'll tell you more about in the meeting.

There are some good Olympics stories to get our teeth into. Any other ideas welcome.


Monday, 18 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 17:08 UK time, Monday, 18 August 2008

Here is Emily's look ahead to tonight's programme:

Musharraf's Mixed Legacy:
It took him a good hour to get there - but finally, at the end of a televised address - the President of Pakistan - who took the country in a bloodless military coup nearly a decade ago - resigned. He was facing impeachment on charges drawn up by the coalition government, and said whilst confident any charges against him would not stand, he was stepping down in the best interests of Pakistan.
Internationally, the questions raised by his going are huge. He has long been considered by the West - and particularly America - as a key ally in the fight against Islamic extremists. Yet $10bn has been spent helping Pakistan fight Al Qaeda - perhaps more, covertly - but protagonists Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri are still at large.
Tonight we ask, what does this resignation mean: a set-back for the War on Terror? Or an opportunity?

It was the day the Russians promised to pull out of Georgia - yet as I write, this is far from clear. International pressure has been growing on them to do so - but it still doesn't seem to be having much effect. President Sarkozy has threatened to call an EU emergency summit. But Russia's not exactly looking scared. We talk to our correspondent in Tbilisi about the latest movements on the ground and what happens next.

Is Water the New Oil?
Water scarcity - and its consequent problems - has leapt up the list of concerns of the military and defence world. We report from Mexico City - where water levels are dropping faster than Venice, Kenya - where it's estimated half the African continent could be suffering from 'water stress' within 25 years and the West Bank, where water consumption has become one of the main obstacles to peace. As World Water Week kicks off in Stockholm we ask whether there is a real water shortage or just too much bad political management. And could a lack of water really lead to war in future?

Do join us for all that and (a little bit) more at 10.30pm on BBC Two

Prospects for Monday, 18 August

Brian Thornton | 12:27 UK time, Monday, 18 August 2008

Good morning, here are programme producer Richard's prospects for tonight:

Musharraf has resigned. How will his presidency be judged and what happens now to politics in Pakistan, and the battle against insurgents?

Russian troops are scheduled to begin withdrawing today, as the South Ossetian leader says he won't accept international observers and wants a permanent Russian military base in the breakaway region.

It's international water week in Stockholm, where they're asking if water will be the oil of the 21st Century. So will it, and what can we do to stop the droughts and wars that could be the result?
Plus Sue Lloyd-Roberts has been to Spain where water shortages there are already leading to major tensions between regions.

The funeral of the Scottish Labour MP John MacDougall also takes place today.

Anything else you'd like to see us cover?


Friday, 15 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 20:53 UK time, Friday, 15 August 2008

Here's Emily with details of tonight's programme:

The New Cold War?

"We were screaming to the world that Russia was going to do this... We are looking evil directly in the eye - this evil is very dangerous not only for us but for everybody."

Impassioned words from President Saakashvili of Georgia, this afternoon, whilst a calm Condoleezza Rice stood at his side. She reiterated her own warning to Russia, that it was "no longer 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia". The world, she hinted, was not prepared to stand by and watch.

In Sochi, Russia, President Medvedev said Russia would respond in the same way if its citizens or peacekeepers were attacked again, although it did not wish to sour relations with the West.

Is that possible? Is the damage already done? Or would Russia be right to think the West will ultimately be ineffectual in its attempts to stop the superpower or to isolate it? Tonight, we ask - how could we not - if there's a new Cold War brewing.

Our Economics Editor Paul Mason will be looking at what political isolation would do to a major economic power like Russia, and our diplomatic correspondent assesses the longer term fallout. We'll be discussing the prospects of a new Cold War with a former Kremlin advisor, a leading American policy maker, and an expert on Russia relations.

Prospects for Friday, 15 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 11:11 UK time, Friday, 15 August 2008

Still lots going on in Georgia - here's Robert Morgan's morning e-mail to the production team:

Good morning,

Quite a bit around today. There's quite a diplomatic offensive on Georgia by the US and Germany today. The American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is on her way to Georgia to try to resolve the conflict and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting the Russian President. Reports this morning say Russian forces have destroyed a number of Georgian naval vessels. Georgia says Russian troops still control a third of its territory. Let's discuss how we should do this story. Andrew North is still in Georgia for us today.

Other stories include Musharraf's future, drug abuse figures and Paxo's view of Robert Burns. Or perhaps you have other thoughts?

See you in a minute,


Thursday, 14 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 18:02 UK time, Thursday, 14 August 2008

Here is Kirsty's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"Hello to viewers at home and abroad,

The Georgian crisis still dominates the headlines tonight, but as well as analysing today's developments - including US Defence Secretary Robert Gates' statement that there will need to be some consequences for Russia's actions in Georgia - Newsnight's team in Georgia set off to find out more about what's really going on the front line. They track down a family they met earlier this week just after they were shot at in Gori by South Ossetian militia - they have a terrifying story to tell.
Then, with continued sporadic fighting on the ground and Russian forces still on Georgian sovereign territory, we'll be speaking to senior Russian and US politicians about the future of a very difficult relationship.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland pupils have been enjoying record A level results today, but as far as the Government's concerned A levels in England could - eventually - be on their way out... A new diploma marrying academic and vocational skills is being rolled out from September. However, such is the resistance to this in some quarters, that for the foreseeable future there is to be a parallel system - which some people view as a two-tier system. We'll be asking the Education Minister whether this is going to lead to clarity or confusion.

The anatomy of Hillary Clinton's failed election campaign is laid bare in private correspondences exposed in the latest edition of Atlantic Monthly, and it gives the impression of a ruthless, backstabbing, contradictory and faulty machine. The magazine asked for emails from the key players and they came zinging back. They paint a picture of indecision and disagreement over how to attack Obama, how to position their candidate and what her message should be.

And finally - it's so valuable it's known as "black gold". Yvonne Murray has been investigating the bright future for onshore oil drilling in the UK.

See you at 22.30


Prospects for Thursday, 14 August

Brian Thornton | 11:11 UK time, Thursday, 14 August 2008

Here is Dan's - the programme producer - prospects for today:

"Caucasus crisis. Andrew and Warwick are on the ground and there should be important diplomatic developments. How should we move this on? What guests would you like on ?

Diplomas - high hopes but will they just become another vocational qualification?

The inside story on how the Clinton nomination campaign collapsed, and onshore oil drilling in the UK.

What else?"

Wednesday, 13 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 17:57 UK time, Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Here is Kirsty's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"Dear Viewers,

Tonight we begin with the crisis in Georgia. In a forthright speech, President Bush made it clear this afternoon that the US will have direct engagement in the conflict. In pursuit of "solidarity with the Georgian people" he said Russia must cease all military action and respect Georgia's territorial borders. He is sending Condoleezza Rice to Paris and on to Tbilisi, and he announced a humanitarian aid mission headed by the United States military. Russia insists that its intervention in South Ossetia was a humanitarian action, but if the EU is divided over blame for the crisis, America is clearly 100% behind President Saakashvili.

We'll be reporting on the significance of President Bush's speech, and our reporter Andrew North will bring us the latest of his extraordinary eye-witness reports from Georgia. If you've missed his previous films you can catch them on our website. Today he and his team have watched people in panic, and a deterioration of order on the outskirts of the capital Tbilisi, as rumours grew of a Russian tank column heading for the city.

From Hezza to Prezza, the big idea was regeneration but today the Policy Exchange - a Conservative-leaning think tank - published a report claiming that some northern cities were "beyond revival" and that there had been a decade of "failed" efforts at regeneration. The report wasn't exactly a winner with the Tory leader David Cameron who has just begun a two-day visit to Cumbria and the North West of England, and he described it as "complete rubbish". I wonder if John Prescott's language was as temperate when he first read it? I'll ask him when he speaks to us live.

More summer-time blues for the economy - Mervyn King the Governor of The Bank of England warned there could be a recession looming and today's unemployment figures showed an increase of 60,000 out of work. But he predicted that although inflation would rise, it will fall sharply next year - and dip below the official 2% target in two years time. Tonight our Economics editor Paul Mason tells us if it's not all bad news!

And we bring you the extraordinary story of Sidney Rittenberg who's watching the Beijing Olympics with particular interest. As a young American, he joined China's communist party only to be jailed for 16 years by Chairman Mao. But instead of shunning the nation, Sidney Rittenberg, now a 70-something multi-millionaire guru, is back playing a key role in building bridges between the US and China.
I hope you'll be watching,


Prospects for Wednesday, 13 August

Brian Thornton | 10:29 UK time, Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Good morning, here are programme producer Shaminder's early thoughts on what stories to cover tonight:

"Andrew North, Warwick and Peter are still in Georgia. They will be looking at the internal situation in Georgia. Is it curtains for Saakashvili? What do people really think about him, and the way the conflict has panned out?

There's deep disagreement about the way forward at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. They're expected to endorse the French peace plan, and send it to the UN - but apart from that there are divisions over what to do next - whether to send in international peacekeepers for instance, and divisions over who was really to blame in the conflict. What shall we do on all this?

The Bank of England publishes its latest report on inflation in a minute. Tougher times ahead are expected. The number of people claiming jobless benefits rose in July by the largest amount since 1992. Paul Mason is on the case.

Prince Charles is warning that companies developing genetically modified crops could cause what he calls the "biggest environmental disaster of all time". What's he talking about?

The Policy Exchange suggests that people from Liverpool, Sunderland and Bradford should move to London, Oxford and Cambridge. Everyone will be talking about it all day, but should we?

John MacDougall, MP for Central Fife has died. Another Scottish by-election.

What's going on with Zimbabwe?

What else?

Yours, Shaminder"

Tuesday, 12 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 18:11 UK time, Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Here is Emily's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"Conflict in the Caucasus:We're live in Georgia tonight with an incredibly powerful film that details the horrific aftermath of attacks in the frontline town of Gori just hours before the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev called for an end to military operations.

This afternoon French President Nicolas Sarkozy - who currently holds the EU presidency - offered to send peacekeeping forces to the region. Medvedev has said the key elements of the plan are the agreement on the non use of force and the cessation of all military action. More ambiguous is the line that Russian peacekeepers will be taking additional security measures until international mechanisms are worked out. So what should we understand by that and just how would EU peacekeeping operations come into force? We'll be interviewing one of the chief negotiators - the chairman of the OSCE - and asking whether Russia hasn't in fact won this dispute hands down.

And we'll have the latest from our Andrew North in Georgia - he's spent the day in the key Georgian city of Gori - which came under attack from Russian jets.

When you prepare for bad news but it's even worse than you thought, you know things are pretty tough. Inflation is now at its highest for 16 years - reaching 4.4%. This now makes the next interest rate decision by the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee an even harder balancing act. Our Economics Editor, Paul Mason reports.

Faking It:
The Beijing Olympics may be giving a whole new twist to the words Chinese manufacturing. Yesterday they confessed that some of their opening night fireworks were computer generated. Now we learn that they have faked the weather - even faked the crowds a little by bussing in a rent-a-crowd to some events. And this evening, a rather sobering story that the pretty pig-tailed soloist at the opening ceremony was actually lip synching her words, after the real child prodigy was deemed 'too ugly' to sing at the ceremony by Chinese officials. Do you admire their guile, or feel, bluntly, cheated? And to what dizzy heights of fakery must London aspire to in 2012 just to keep up? We'll debate that here tonight.

Elephant Meat:
The horrific slaughter of endangered elephants for their ivory has long been documented but now the animals are under threat from another trade. Renowned conservationist and wildlife photographer Karl Amman is credited with almost single-handedly raising awareness of the issue of bush meat, the slaughter and consumption of wild - and often protected - animals. He has now turned his camera on the butchering of elephants for their meat in the Central African Republic - one of the poorest countries in the world.

Do join me at 10.30,


Prospects for Tuesday, 12 August

Brian Thornton | 11:34 UK time, Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Good morning, here are programme producer Robert's early thoughts about which stories to cover tonight:

"There's lots around today. Georgia, inflation, rape compensation seem like prime candidates. Do come to the meeting armed with lots of ideas on how to do these stories and others.

The Elephant Meat film might make it tonight!


Monday, 11 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 17:57 UK time, Monday, 11 August 2008

Here is Emily's look ahead to tonight's programme:

Ceasefire, What ceasefire?
The conflict between Russia and Georgia has escalated in the direction many had anticipated. Tonight, reports from Moscow that ground troops have entered Senaki, a town in sovereign Georgian territory on the edge of Abkhazia. What is the extent of Russia's objectives? Meanwhile, the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has lashed out at the US, and Moscow has accused Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili of acting like a "war criminal". What chances of a diplomatic breakthrough amidst this kind of rhetoric? Newsnight's Andrew North is in Georgia this evening and has spent much of the past two days in the frontline town of Gori. Watch his report tonight.

We'll also be talking to a senior Russian official about what the Russian "end game" will be. And we'll be asking Georgia's ambassador to the EU whether they have badly miscalculated, and just how much active support Georgia can rely on from the West.

In the long running saga of the Zimbabwe elections we are reluctant to predict a "breakthrough moment" yet again. However as I write, President Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai are holed up in a hotel together to talk about power sharing, with South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki mediating. We'll bring you the latest from there.

Isaac Hayes:
He was, perhaps, the King of Bling before the word was even invented. His shaven head, gold chains and sunglasses was a look to remember in the early seventies, and his first album, Hot Buttered Soul, made Isaac Hayes a star. Along with Al Green, James Brown and Stevie Wonder, he was one of the dominant black artists of the 1970s. He may have been a soul legend - but he himself recognized how much influence he was already having on the rappers that would follow him. The Oscar winning singer has died at the age of 65. Tonight, we look back on the music and influence of Isaac Hayes.

Join me tonight at 10.30pm


Olympic Scrawl

Brian Thornton | 14:10 UK time, Monday, 11 August 2008

Olympic Scrawl

stadium_nn_203.jpgAs part of Newsnight's coverage of the Games, we'll be publishing the thoughts of a journalist who's gone to Beijing, but who has chosen to remain anonymous.

He'll be reflecting on the impact of the Games on the lives of ordinary Chinese through pictures, video and regular posts.

Catch his entries from now through to the end of Olympic Games right here.

And do let us know what you think...

Prospects for Monday, 11 August

Brian Thornton | 10:17 UK time, Monday, 11 August 2008

Good morning, here is programme producer Dan's look ahead to tonight's Newsnight:

"Caucasus Conflict

We have Andrew North and Warwick Harrington filming near the border with South Ossetia. What about the wider geo-political picture? What is Russia's endgame and how can the US (and the EU) respond?
Which guests should we get on and what lines should we pursue?

Zimbabwe - could there be a power sharing deal announced in Harare today? Caroline Hawley is on the story.

Isaac Hayes - from blaxploitation to South Park - an incredible life and career. Who would be a good interview to comment on the self styled "soul man"?

Plus - Elephant Meat could finally make the screen, I'll explain in the meeting!

See you at 10.30am


Friday, 8 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 16:51 UK time, Friday, 8 August 2008

Celebrations in China, conflict in Georgia, and reflections on the Middle East. Here's Kirsty with details of tonight's programme:

Do sport and politics mix?

China promised the most spectacular Olympic opening ceremony. As I write I'm watching the festivities in Beijing as the teams and many of the 20,000 athletes competing pour into the fabulous Birds Nest stadium designed by architects Herzog and de Meuron.

Tonight we'll be talking to the Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell about the ceremony - including the rather selective review of China's history as presented to the world this afternoon.

Is it possible to keep politics out of these Games - and is it even right to do so given China's human rights record? We'll also have a leading China watcher and a Chinese artistic leader to discuss their impressions of this opening day.

What does the opening ceremony mean to you? Click here to post your views.

Georgia and South Ossetia

The smiles of the athletes walking around the Olympic stadium mask many different tensions - Zimbabwe, Iran, Iraq, Sudan... and today in Georgia there is the likelihood of war in the former Soviet Union. The Georgian province of South Ossetia wants to break away from Georgia - with support from Russia.

There has been fighting overnight, and allegations by the Georgian President that 150 Russian tanks and other vehicles have entered South Ossetia. The President, Mr Saakasvili, has vowed to restore Tbilisi's rule over South Ossetia - and has angered Moscow by seeking membership of Nato. We'll have the latest.

Former head of CentCom

When US Admiral William Fallon, Head of US Central Command, gave an interview to Esquire magazine in which he seemed to suggest that he was the only man standing between George W Bush and war with Iran, his position became untenable.

Newsnight's diplomatic editor Mark Urban secured a rare interview with Admiral Fallon - he asked him what he now thinks about the prospect of war with Iran, and about Barack Obama's Iraq policy.

Read more about Newsnight's interview with Admiral Fallon on Mark Urban's blog.

It's the taking part that counts?

And then back to the Olympics. The DNA of Team GB is partly down to the channelling of lottery funding into particular sports such as cycling and sailing where we hope to win medals - it's a new policy and will really kick in in 2012.

Is this what the modern Olympiad is all about? The Culture Minister Andy Burnham has already said how many medals he expects Great Britain to win. We'll debate what happened to the idea of participating for the sake of it?

Watch more of Newsnight's China coverage online.

See you later,

What does the Olympic opening ceremony mean to you?

Stuart Denman | 12:15 UK time, Friday, 8 August 2008

In tonight's programme we'll be reviewing Beijing's Olympic opening ceremony.

stadium_nn_203.jpgAlready the games have provoked protests on a range of issues including human rights, Tibet, political prisoners and house evictions. So what message will the Chinese government be trying to convey at the ceremony? Will it tell us anything about the future direction of China? And do you believe that the Games will create a lasting change in China's openness to the rest of the world?

Let us know your thoughts - as part of our ongoing coverage of China's Games, we'll be reflecting your views on the programme tonight.

Prospects for Friday, 8 August, 2008

Stuart Denman | 10:24 UK time, Friday, 8 August 2008

On the day the Olympics kick off in China, we've a bumper edition of Newsnight this Friday. Here's output editor Liz Gibbons with this morning's prospects.

Hi all,

stadium_nn_203.jpgWe have 46'00 and there's no Review. But it's me anyway cos I love being here on a Friday night.

Olympic opening ceremony will dominate. How do you want to cover it and who should we get on?

Repossession figures - up 48% on six months. And RBS have recorded six month losses today - but their shares are up.

We have two things already in train - Mark Urban's done an interview with Admiral William Fallon, Commander of CentCom, and Caroline Hawley is working on a profile of Sidney Rittenberg, the only American ever to join the Chinese communist party who is credited with opening up Chinese markets.

We should watch the situation in Georgia.

See you at 10.30.


Thursday, 7 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 17:32 UK time, Thursday, 7 August 2008

Here is Kirsty's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"We go on air as Beijing wakes up to the start of the Olympics. With George Bush's criticisms of the country's human rights record China is under more scrutiny than ever before. In 2001 when China was awarded the Games it promised greater openness but are changes anything more than cosmetic, given internet blocking, the suppression of protests and the detention of activists? Rupert Wingfield-Hayes spent eight years reporting for the BBC from China and he returns to hear a Chinese lawyer saying that human rights have actually got worse.

Is Stamp Duty staying or going? Alistair Darling spent his summer holidays in a traditional Black House on a remote Hebridean island, perhaps thinking about the dire problems in the housing market, but clearly not making a decision about Stamp Duty. He doesn't need to wait until the pre-budget report - after all he announced there would be no hike in fuel duty before he headed to his highland fastness. So what's keeping him?

Yet more drama in Pakistani politics as the country's ruling coalition parties begin impeachment hearings against President Musharraf (who is NOT now going to the Olympic Games). Benazir Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP warned Musharraf not to dissolve parliament: "If he does it, it will be his last verdict against the people." But will one effect of this instability be damage to counter terrorism measures in the tribal areas?

And as if there is simply not enough for you to watch on television, you'll soon be able to turn on to GBTV ..... or is it State TV? Gordon Brown is to have his own channel - promising exclusive video of the prime minister's speeches, press conferences, media appearances, news archive, Pilates classes, tennis matches and visits to the terraces of Raith Rovers - OK I made the last three up, but it's going to be a challenge - just how much of a challenge David Grossman will be telling us tonight. Perhaps the prime minister should enlist Paris Hilton to talk about sustainability. That might be a ratings winner.

I hope you'll be watching,


Prospects for Thursday, 7 August

Brian Thornton | 11:23 UK time, Thursday, 7 August 2008

Good morning, here's programme producer Richard's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"A fair amount around on the economy today - more bank write-downs, this time for Barclays, and RBS's results tomorrow are expected to be pretty dire; also there's an interest rate decision at noon - any move would be big news; and Robert Peston's interviewing the chancellor this morning - will he clarify the government's position on stamp duty? If not, why would anyone buy a house until he does?

We've the second in Rupert Wingfield-Hayes's reports from inside China - what impact is the Olympics really having in terms of openness and human rights for ordinary Chinese? Plus George Bush arrives there later today, and it'll be the morning of the big day in Beijing by the time we're on air.

Other stuff around
Is Musharraf about to be impeached - dare he finally leave Pakistan for the Olympics? Will there be a breakthrough in the Zimbabwe talks - Mbeki flying to Harare today would suggest it's imminent. The PM is to launch his own TV channel - Number10TV. Bin Laden's former driver expected to be sentenced later today.

Anything else take your fancy? Plenty of room in the programme for other stories.


Wednesday, 6 August

Brian Thornton | 18:23 UK time, Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Here's Gavin's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"So what has been achieved by the Military Commission system? Does anyone outside the United States really believe that detainees are subject to the due process of law? And what does the future hold for Guantanamo Bay?

Demonstrations today - we'll have the latest and continue our China season with a report from Rupert Wingfield-Hayes on the impact the Games are making on ordinary Chinese people.

Drugs and Sport
We ask the expert - Dwain Chambers.

And the author and Stalin expert Simon Sebag Montefiore gives us a personal view of the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the day the iconic writer was laid to rest.


Newsnight's Arctic Adventure

Brian Thornton | 14:55 UK time, Wednesday, 6 August 2008

icebreaker203.jpgNewsnight has been given exclusive access to a team of scientists travelling to the Arctic to carry out crucial climate research.

Dr Henrik Stahl, Dr Elanor Bell and Dr Raymond Leakey have been keeping us up to date on how the expedition has been progressing in their blogs.

Susan Watts will join the team at the Ny Alesund polar research base on Svalbard and travel with them to Longyearbyen, the Arctic "tourist" destination where the mission ends.

But what do you think of the adventure so far - have you been reading their blogs - is there anything you'd like to ask the scientists?

Prospects for Wednesday, 6 August

Brian Thornton | 10:54 UK time, Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Hello, here is programme producer Shaminder's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"By the time we go on air tonight, it will be a day to go until the Olympics start - I think. There have been some small protests already today. Some activists refused entry to China. A typhoon. A judo team rehearsing in a hotel lobby. Do you want to do something about any of that? We have a film from Rupert Wingfield-Hayes about how Chinese people feel about the Olympics.

More details will emerge later on the biggest identity fraud and computer hacking case the American authorities have ever investigated. 40 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen. People all over the world may have been affected. Interested? How could we take this on?

We have a Dwain Chambers interview. What should we ask him?

Solzhenitsyn is laid to rest today.

What else? Pensions?

Yours, Shaminder"

Tuesday, 5 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 18:14 UK time, Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Here is Gavin's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"Quote for the Day
"I have now reached the point at which I no longer care whether or not the answer is nuclear."
Environmental activist George Monbiot making the case that stopping coal fired power stations being built is his top priority.

In tonight's programme:
Is it now Green to go nuclear? We will examine and debate Monbiot's thesis. Though you could hardly call him an "enthusiast" for nuclear power, his view that it might be part of the energy mix in Britain's future as a least worst option will undoubtedly divide green activists.
So should the green movement be more pragmatic in its goals, or is compromise selling out?

One heartbeat away ...
The job of Vice President of the United States was once compared by Lyndon Johnson to a bucket of warm spit (though Johnson almost certainly used a far cruder phrase). And yet choosing a running mate is also the first big decision a future president will make. Both Obama and McCain need something - in Obama's case, a running mate who will win over Hillary Clinton supporters. In McCain's case, he needs someone much younger. We'll view the runners and riders.

Housing market
We'll also be reporting on Northern Rock's £3bn cash injection, courtesy of me and you. And is there any truth in reports the government's looking at Stamp Duty?

Paul Mason has been figuring out how the internet has changed China - and how far Big Brother is watching cyberspace."

Prospects for Tuesday, 5 August

Brian Thornton | 11:00 UK time, Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Good morning, here are the early thoughts of programme producer Richard:

"Climate change
Interesting article from George Monbiot today arguing amongst other things that the timescale is now so urgent it's time to ditch environmentalists' long-standing veto on nuclear power. Meanwhile the climate camp at Kingsnorth in Kent is gearing up for its day of mass action later in the week, and Obama has also been changing his energy policy as the cost of oil continues to hit consumers in the US. How is all this affecting the green debate?

US elections
Both McCain and Obama have still to select their candidates for VP. Will it happen this week, before Olympic coverage swamps the US media? And what are each of them looking for in a running mate?

China cyberspace
Paul Mason has a report looking at how the internet is changing China - allowing Chinese citizens unprecedented opportunities for debate, but also giving the state even greater access into their lives.

Today is the deadline for Iran to submit its response to demands for it to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme.

But there's plenty of opportunity to do something different today, so please come to the meeting with lots of ideas.


Monday, 4 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 17:53 UK time, Monday, 4 August 2008

Here is Gavin's look ahead to tonight's programme.

Tonight, we're devoting all of Newsnight to the biggest story of this week, this month and probably of this century - China.

In a special report "What does the World think of China" we've commissioned an opinion poll showing how China is regarded from the United States and Britain to South Korea and Latin America.

I'll debate the findings with a distinguished panel of guests from Beijing, New York, Brazil, India and Africa as well as here at home.

Is China more of a threat than a possible ally? How far are Chinese people truly oppressed? How sensitive are ordinary Chinese people to criticism of their country?

Tell us what you think on the Newsnight Blog.

That's Newsnight at 10.30 pm on BBC 2.


Quote for the Day:

"It is fine to teach children about scientific controversies. What is not fine is to say, 'There are these two theories: one is called evolution; the other is called Genesis'.
If you are going to say that, then you should talk about the Nigerian Tribe which believed the world was created from the excrement of ants'
- Scientist Richard Dawkins, author of the book The God Delusion.

Prospects for Monday, 4 August

Brian Thornton | 10:52 UK time, Monday, 4 August 2008

Good morning - here is programme producer Dan Kelly to explain what to expect in tonight's Newsnight special on China:

"What the World Thinks of China"

Four days ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing, Newsnight has commissioned a poll of countries across the world to find out what people think of China. The results suggest that most people view the rising super power with suspicion, but there are important exceptions and some fascinating trends. I'll explain all in the meeting. We have guests booked from around the world.

Lots of production effort is needed to ensure that the look and structure of the show works properly.

Friday, 1 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 17:52 UK time, Friday, 1 August 2008

Here is Kirsty's look ahead to tonight's programme:

"Hello to viewers,

Barry George spent eight years in prison for the murder of the TV presenter Jill Dando, a murder he did not commit. Today after he was found not guilty in a retrial he simply said "I am overwhelmed.". Barry George was convicted of Jill Dando's muder in 2001.
The jury found that he did not have the cognitive abilities to have carried out the crime - according to the clinical psychologist who was by his side throughout the trial Barry George suffers from various medical and psychological problems - including cognitive impairment, anxiety and panic attacks and epilepsy.
His character was at the centre of the retrial. A change of the law allowed the prosecution to introduce "bad character" - the prosecution tried to use the fact that he was regarded as "the local nutter", a loner and a fantasist, against him, - but that backfired and the tactic is now the subject of debate. Is there a danger that the use of so called "bad character" singles out "vulnerable people" for no good reason other than their "vulnerable" behaviour? Tonight we'll discuss the treatment of Barry George.

Also today a jury failed to reach a verdict on the only defendants accused of involvement in the 7/7 bombings. The three men, Mohammad Shakil, Sadeer Saleem and Waheed Ali were charged with conspiracy to cause explosions in London in July 2005, the capital's worst peacetime attack, which left 52 dead. We'll hear from our reporter Richard Watson, who's been covering the case, on what happened today, and what the trial revealed about the bombings.

And something altogether different - have you noticed a shortage of broad beans in the shops? We'll explain later.

Do join us."

Newsnight Review, 1 August, 2008

Brian Thornton | 17:30 UK time, Friday, 1 August 2008

Here's Kirsty's look ahead to tonight's Newsnight Review:

emin300.jpg"Tonight academic Germaine Greer director of the ICA Ekow Eshun and Sadler's Wells producer Emma Gladstone look back at 20 years of Tracey Emin's artistic and emotional life displayed in a major retrospective at the beautiful National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh - painful revelations, rude girl, delicate needlework, abortions, prose, the unmade bed, the consummate draughtswoman, her huge appliquéd blankets, the Margate rollercoaster - it's all there.

Tracey Emin is one of the most famous artists in Britain. She was notorious for her unmade bed - shortlisted for the Turner prize. She represented Britain at the Venice Biennale but will this show secure her place as a serious artist?

A week before the Olympics there are two Chinese productions of Swan Lake here - one from the National Ballet of China, is traditional, the other full of acrobats, smoke, trick cyclists, and extreme balletic feats. We are reviewing the latter at the Lowry in Salford, produced by Shanghai City Dance and starring the Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe of China.
Just to give you an idea of what's in store - the White Swan stands en pointe on the Prince's head - one leg in the air!

There are more oohs and aahs in the film documentary Man on Wire which tells the extraordinary story of Phillipe Petit who walked on a wire 1,368 ft above the ground between the Twin Towers in New York in 1974 - without permission.

He and his accomplices smuggled 450 lbs of cable and a crossbow into the Towers and the 24-year-old Phillipe walked across the sky - a distance of 140 ft, eight times. The archive of this self styled "artistic criminal" is amazing. Now looking back this first "assault" on the iconic towers is even more poignant.

theatre226.jpgThe theatre director Katie Mitchell knows all about taking artistic risks - it is her stock in trade. She mixes media to reinvent classic texts and stage new work. Her new production at the National Theatre in London titled, "...some trace of her" is a reinterpretation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

Starring Ben Whishaw and Hattie Morahan the actors operate cameras, move props, and provide sound effects as they create a black and white film on stage which is instantly projected onto a huge screen. Katie Mitchell's work divides the critics - will "...some trace of her" divide ours?

Do watch to find out, Kirsty"

Prospects for Friday, 1 August

Brian Thornton | 12:34 UK time, Friday, 1 August 2008

Good morning, here are the early thoughts of programme producer Shaminder:

"The government's nuclear plans have been dealt a blow by the stalling of a deal to sell most of Britain's nuclear power stations to the French firm EDF. What should we do on this?

China's allowed journalists at the Olympic press centre to access previously barred websites. The IOC is claiming the move as a victory for openness? But is it?

What could we do to mark the end of a week of speculation about the futures of Brown, Miliband and Labour?

Documents from the National Archives made public today reveal the crazy arguments made against the introduction of seatbelts in the 70s and 80s. Apparently some people believed seatbelts would present problems for hunchbacks, dwarves and the elderly.......

What else?



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