Page last updated at 00:50 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Correspondents look ahead to 2009

A new year is upon us and the Chinese tell us it is the year of the ox - steadfast and patient.

But what are the main news events we should expect over the coming 12 months?

Four top BBC correspondents will be joining Stephen Sackur for BBC Radio 4's Correspondents Look Ahead.

Here they predict the biggest news story of 2009, and explain what they are looking forward to most and least. Each also notes something entertaining they expect to happen.


Stephen Sackur
Stephen Sackur
Presenter, Correspondent's Look Ahead and Hard Talk

Justin Webb
Justin Webb
North America Editor

Lyse Doucet
Lyse Doucet
BBC World News special correspondent

paul mason
Paul Mason
Economics Editor, Newsnight

James Robbins
James Robbins
Diplomatic Correspondent


STEPHEN SACKUR, PRESENTER, CORRESPONDENT'S LOOK AHEAD
Stephen Sackur
What will be the biggest story in 2009?

The world's leading man in 2009 will undoubtedly be Barack Obama. As the curtain rises on his presidency he wants us all to intone "Yes, We Can." A more useful three-word mantra may be "Hold on tight."

In fact it's going to be a big year for global democracy. Indians, South Africans, Indonesians, Israelis also go to the polls. Jacob Zuma, Binyamin Netanyahu, some of the names of 2009 are already familiar. But look out for imprisoned Marwan Barghouti to become de facto leader of the Palestinians in the next year.

What are you looking forward to most?

2009 promises new beginnings and a whole lot of political excitement. Much of it generated by that man Obama. His presence in the White House will make a difference. The Guantanamo prison camp will be closed, knee-jerk anti-Americanism will lose its populist appeal in much of the world. Elections in Iran and Afghanistan will ask serious questions of those who practise political Islam.

What are you looking forward to least?

Across the western world a generation of young adults raised in an era of virtually full employment will experience something not seen since their grandparents were kids - a full-blown economic slump.

And the impact will indeed be global. In China the 20th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Tiananmen protests will be marked by a new wave of street protest. This time not from student democrats, but from furious laid-off workers suddenly out of love with the market economy.

Can you foresee any entertaining events/developments in 2009?

England will win back the Ashes in a glorious summer of cricket. Did I say realism was here to stay?

Who do you most want to interview in 2009?

Robert Mugabe. If you'll allow me to indulge in a little wishful thinking, I imagine him announcing his decision to go in the middle of a tense encounter on the BBC's HARDtalk.

JUSTIN WEBB, NORTH AMERICA EDITOR

Justin Webb

What will be the biggest story in 2009?

The honeymoon will last: I think the biggest story here will be the Obama administration's transformation of American life. Americans, buffeted by events at home and abroad, are willing to let the new team have a go at trying their solutions.

It'll be non-ideological in appearance - that is Obama's way - but I think America will look and feel very different by the end of the year with genuine progress made towards much wider access to healthcare, and a new respect for science and rational solutions to problems.

What are you looking forward to most?

I am looking forward to seeing the Republicans re-group. One of the biggest issues here is going to be the shape of the new party as it gets itself going again and the fight between Sarah Palin and her supporters and the other wings of the party will be fascinating - it will begin as the year ends (with the mid-term elections then less than a year away).

What are you looking forward to least?

Leaving America. (Justin will be returning to the UK to present the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.)

Can you foresee any entertaining events/developments in 2009?

We will be visited by strangers from another planet. Perhaps.

Who do you most want to interview in 2009?

Vice-President Joe Biden. He is famously ill-disciplined when it comes to staying on message and just might say something newsworthy.

LYSE DOUCET, WORLD CORRESPONDENT

Lyse Doucet

What will be the biggest story in 2009?

The effects of the worldwide economic slowdown. What impact will it have on key international initiatives - everything from moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions to badly needed aid programmes in places from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Africa, can Robert Mugabe really continue to hold on to power? Or will Zimbabwe implode?

What are you looking forward to most?

I am really looking forward to seeing what will be the impact of a new US administration headed by Barack Obama on intractable conflicts such as the Middle East peace process; age-old rivalries between India and Pakistan; and the violence described by the US as genocide in Darfur. What difference can a new diplomacy and a president described as "transformational" make?

What are you looking forward to least?

The media frenzy around Barack Obama will continue with every "first" trip to every country and crisis. It may drown out other voices and strategies already in place on the ground.

In 2008, wherever I travelled around the world there was a sense of waiting for the next US president. Will this, over time, create resentments about America's might and also irritate other players like Russia and Europe, if not China?

Can you foresee any entertaining events/developments in 2009?

Barack Obama's first trip to Kenya. Bill Clinton travelling with Hillary as the spouse of the Secretary of State. And will Prince William and Kate Middleton marry? Also, will the shoe protest started by the Iraqi journalist who threw his at President Bush, continue to gather steam with shoes being thrown everywhere?

Who do you most want to interview in 2009?

Taleban leaders to find out what they really want in Afghanistan.

PAUL MASON, ECONOMICS EDITOR, NEWSNIGHT

Paul Mason

What will be the biggest story in 2009?

The biggest story in 2009 will be not the recession, which is a certainty, but any short term recovery - which would be a big surprise. The governments of the G7 have thrown everything they have at the financial crisis, we've had about $1 trillion in debt write-off and maybe $12 trillion worth of nationalisations and credit guarantees.

There is a chance - just a chance - that this will induce a V-shaped recession: short and sharp. But if, by the end of the year the arrows are pointing downwards, then a whole series of secondary effects will kick in that make a severe and long recession likely.

What are you looking forward to most?

What I am looking forward to most is the US legal system moving into the indictment stage on some of the people at the top of the banking and insurance industry who clearly mis-stated the scale of their liabilities.

I am also looking forward to seeing the Chinese leadership grapple with a rising tide of wage demands from its restive workforce - I think this is now on the cards.

What are you looking forward to least?

What I'm looking forward to least is the impact of unemployment: it will not be the wiping out of whole industrial towns that we lived through in the 1980s, instead it will take out demographic slices.

The generation least prepared for it are young people - anybody who's got used to buying drinks at the pub on a credit card is going to have a very sobering time. In the dole queue nobody asks you whether you want whipped cream or an extra shot. I am not looking forward to how people will react.

Can you foresee any entertaining events/developments in 2009?

What's going to be fun? Not much! I am looking forward to the release of the movie of Atlas Shrugged with Angelina Jolie, but for kitsch value rather than anything else. It's all about why free market capitalism is a great idea, and state intervention terrible. Perfect timing.

JAMES ROBBINS, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT
James Robbins

What will be the biggest story in 2009?

The testing of Barack Obama as President. When he moves from the calm of formulating his vision as a candidate to the storm of providing leadership as president.

What will he be able to change in the United States and in the wider world?

What are you looking forward to most?

Any unambiguous sign that change is taking hold - change in Zimbabwe; change in the Middle East; change in the governance and supervision of the financial sector; change in Iran; change in Afghanistan and in Pakistan

What are you looking forward to least?

Hearing empty rhetoric from any number of leaders. Worse still "pledges" to deliver at some time in the future on climate change and limiting carbon emissions, or promises to deliver the Millennium Development Goals, unless those leaders can show conclusive evidence that they are on track to meet existing pledges.

Can you foresee any entertaining events/developments in 2009?

This will be the Year of the Gorilla - part of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Three of the four gorilla species are listed as "critically endangered". They are victims of man's exploitation of the earth's resources... yet they are relatives, aren't they?

Who do you most want to interview in 2009?

Barack Obama, obviously. Any of China's top leadership. North Korea's leader, Kim Jung-Il, to assess his health, as much as anything else. And Stevie Wonder - an inspiration to many and and a believer in the power of music as a force for good.


Our correspondents will discussing what 2009 may bring on The Correspondent's Look Ahead on BBC Radio 4. Listen live at 20.00 GMT, Friday, 2 January 2009 or catch up on the BBC iPlayer.

Also, you too can share your thoughts for the year ahead on Listener's Look Ahead, from 13.15 GMT on Saturday, 3 January 2009 on BBC Radio 4. E-mail the programme at lookahead@bbc.co.uk or call in live on the day on 03700 100 444 (Calls cost no more than calling 01 and 02 geographic landline numbers. Lines open at 12:30 GMT on Saturday, 3 January.)



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