• Dateline reporter Amos Roberts filming in Brazil. (SBS Dateline)
In 2016 Dateline travelled to more than 20 countries and filmed 400 hours of footage. Hear behind the scenes tales from reporters and some of the stories that didn’t make it to air.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 21:30

For every character and story that you see each week on Dateline, there are many others that don’t make the final edit.

To begin 2017 we’re bringing some of those stories back to life and going behind the scenes with our reporters and producers.

Alaa Almanjar is one of the more memorable characters whose story never made it to air.

Video journalist Amos Roberts met Alaa while reporting ‘Canada’s Open House’, a story that examined how the country was using a private sponsorship program to help Alaa and other Syrian refugees fit into their community after resettlement.

Alaa had moved to the small Canadian town of Shelburne, after fleeing war in Syria. Not long after arriving there, he opened a barbershop – and has seen surprising success.

“[Alaa] had only been in the country a few months and he’d already opened a business that locals were lining up to visit,” says Amos.

“You hear so many people talking about refugees as if they’re some kind of burden – in Alaa’s case, it was the exact opposite.”

One of the stranger Dateline stories from 2016 was ‘Korea’s Fake Funerals’. It looked at a growing trend in South Korea – where people go through the ritual of death to help overcome depression and suicidal tendencies.

Producer Georgina Davies and video journalist Dean Cornish attended one of these ceremonies, where a young man named Beon – who had been coping with depressive thoughts – was hoping to be “reborn” by undergoing a pretend death and funeral.

“Being in the room as people were stepping into the coffins and preparing to be dead was quite an eerie experience,” says Georgina.

“I was amazed at how emotional everybody was in the ceremony.”

Korea has one of the higher suicide rates in the world – and it’s highest among the country’s elderly population.

Georgina said one 90-year-old woman’s experience, in particular, has stuck with her since filming the story – even though it didn’t make the final version of the film.

“It is quite hard to get people to open up about their personal lives and sensitive issues about loneliness, but in this case it was kind of the opposite.”

“She grabbed my hand and she held onto it for about half an hour while she talked…I actually forgot that I was there filming her because I started to just chat to her, I forgot the camera was rolling.”

Video journalist Evan Williams’ film ‘Getting Away With Murder’ started with a simple question; why were so many people in the Philippines being killed under President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime?

In the two months after Duterte’s election, figures showed more than 2,400 alleged drug users and drug dealers had been killed, in a brutal campaign led by his administration.

While reporting in the country, Evan spoke with the families of people who were gunned down by police, and two of the assassins carrying out the murders. He also met a man named Nestor who said he was selling drugs on behalf of the police – highlighting the corrupt nature of the country’s drug war.

“Nestor is a man who for many years had been selling drugs for a corrupt police officer – he gave great, genuine detail about how this works,” says Evan.

But interviewing Nestor came with risks; “It’s very difficult to film in any meaningful sense somebody like Nestor, who doesn’t want their identity revealed – so you have to make it work within the constraints of what they’re comfortable with and what doesn’t endanger them further.”

Recently, President Duterte announced he would temporarily halt the country’s anti-drug campaign to focus on addressing corruption within the police force.

During his time reporting in the country, Evan says the volume and frequency of killing stuck with him.

“I remember the last scene that we filmed was a man who was killed in the back of the head by a gunman on a motorcycle – a young guy, 23.

“That image stayed with me a lot.”

Another story Evan Williams worked on, with producer Calliste Weitenberg, looked at the plight of women in El Salvador – who can be jailed for having a miscarriage under some of the world’s most extreme abortion laws.

‘From Murder to Miscarriage’ told the stories of women wrongly convicted under these laws and the lawyer who’s dedicated his career to defending them in court.

One of the more extraordinary characters Evan and Calliste met while reporting the story was a doctor who said he was illegally performing abortions for women.

The doctor told Evan and Calliste that many women in the country are forced to undergo dangerous abortions, as there is no option for them to seek professional medical help.

“Sadly, our health system tries to pretend these cases don’t exist,” he said. “But there is a reality outside and if I don’t help these women – I who am trained, who have experience – there’s going to be someone from the black market who is going to do it, and not in the best conditions.”

Calliste says the decision to cut the doctor’s interview from the film was difficult, but made sense for the story.

“This was about the women, and although he’s fighting for women’s rights, it’s not his story.”

“We wanted to give them a voice and prioritise their voices in the story.”

Video journalist Brett Mason says one of the more memorable moments of his reporting trip to Gaza for Dateline involved a mother of six and her solar oven.

Brett and his cameraman had visited Sumaya and her family after hearing a local charity had provided them with a greenhouse and solar oven to grow and cook their own food.

Sumaya and her six children have to sleep in the same room, and their house often leaks during the winter.

“At this huge lunch that Sumaya had prepared for us, she calls us over to the solar oven and says, ‘I have a surprise for you’,” recalls Brett. “Out of this solar oven, in the buffer zone of the Gaza Strip, comes a chocolate cake that Sumaya had prepared for us.”

“At that moment I realised just how significant that oven was to this family and how something so inexpensive can make such a big difference.”

This is one of many stories that didn’t make the final version of Brett’s film, ‘The Survivor’s Guide to Gaza’.

“It’s hard, because you become really attached to the characters that you meet when you’re filming stories for Dateline – Sumaya had a huge impact on me and she still does.”

Watch the full story at the top of the page.


From Miscarriage to Murder
Why are mothers in El Salvador being charged with homicide or manslaughter after losing a child? Dateline investigates the country’s extreme anti-abortion laws and finds local women fighting to have their cases heard.
Getting Away With Murder?
The Philippines President has pledged to slaughter every drug dealer and addict in the country, making way for death squads and encouraging vigilante killings. Dateline investigates what his tough justice really looks like and talks to assassins who say they work for the police, as well as the families of their victims.
Canada’s Open House
While Australia has been slow to resettle refugees fleeing war in Syria, Canada has not only opened its borders but also its homes. Dateline visits two communities where locals are helping Syrian families integrate – but is their good will and compassion enough?
The Survivor’s Guide to Gaza
Gaza will be unliveable by 2020 according to the UN, with daily life already a struggle to find food and shelter, but Dateline finds the people bringing innovation and inspiration to the fight for survival.
Korea's Fake Funerals
Imagine having a fake funeral where you write your own eulogy or a vending machine which pops out messages of hope. Behind South Korea’s high tech and K-Pop culture, Dateline finds extreme and unexpected ways of fighting one of the world’s highest suicide rates.


Producer: Ana Maria Quinn

Story Editor: Simon Phegan


Dateline’s Cutting Room Extras

Getting Away with Murder?
Reporters: Evan Williams, Ben Foley & Joel Tozer
October 2016

PHILIPPINES, PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE:  Do your duty and if the process, you kill 1,000 persons, I will protect you.

REPORTER: Getting away with murder, started because we wanted to investigate why so many people were being killed in the Philippines, they were being killed, gunned down by the police and by hit squads, there was something at that point like 3,500 people have been killed ever since President Duterte had taken office. That number was increasing by about 30 per day.

LEILA DELIMA:  The whole approach, the whole strategy of his administration is really kill, kill, kill! Is that acceptable? Not at all!

REPORTER: President Duterte is I think one of the new generation of what we call nationalist populist leaders, he uses rhetoric which is appealing to the masses. But it’s a surface thing I think, many people are starting to also question the degree of violence which is being used in this campaign on drugs. They say that it has become too bloody. Too many innocent people are being killed.

So these drug users are going in and telling the police who the other drug users are.

In the slums in the Philippines, there is a great degree of fear and concern particularly among young men. Nestor is a man who for many years had been selling drugs for a corrupt police officer. He gave great genuine detail about how this works.

We have come to a quiet hotel in central Manila to meet a man who we are told is on the run and fearing for his life. He says the police want to kill him because he has got information about another side to the drug trade and the drug war.

REPORTER:  I saw the police checkpoint down the road earlier.

NESTOR:  Yeah.

REPORTER:  It’s a bit of a worry. What did you think?

NESTOR: I think it’s unusual to be a patrol car with cops.

REPORTER:  It was a big checkpoint, yeah exactly. I would be nervous too.

It's very difficult to film in any meaningful sense with somebody like Nestor who doesn’t want their identity revealed, so you have to make it work within the constraints of what they are comfortable with and what doesn't endanger them further.

NESTOR:  The police worked directly with me and I supplied further down the line. The police who are involved in the drug trade are also those who kill the people. Before they can talk, the police kill them to stop themselves being identified. I feel paranoid when I see a policeman. Anytime, I can be nabbed. Anytime, I can be killed.

REPORTER: What are you doing today sir?

We know from the chief of police, General De La Rosa, who admitted to us in an interview that there are corrupt police officers selling drugs.

We have been told that some police officers are actually involved in the drug trade. You mentioned it yourself the other day. Is that true?

GENERAL DE LA ROSA:  Yes, that is very true.  That is very true.

REPORTER:  What are you going to do about that?

GENERAL DE LA ROSA:  Secret, secret.

REPORTER:  The government has now paused the war to focus on the corruption of these officers and get them out of the police force. It's an extraordinary situation. The other thing I take away from this is the terrible personal tragedy that we experienced. It affects you deeply when you see individuals killed. It affects you more so when you see many individuals killed over many days. I remember the last scene that we filmed, was the man who was killed in the back of the head, by a gunman on a motor cycle, a young guy, 23. That image stayed with me a lot. It was a very traumatic thing for a society, not at war but a country, a civil society to go through and the result of that is yet to play out.


Korea’s Fake Funerals.
Reporters: Dean Cornish & Georgina Davies
May 2016

REPORTER:  South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. So the film, Korea’s Fake Funerals is about the ways of tackling those suicide rates and in quite unexpected ways.

REPORTER: Today is the day that Beon is going to face death at his fake funeral.

KIM KI HO (Translation): It's a beautiful day today so it's a perfect day to die.  I hope you have a good experience.

REPORTER:  I suppose the idea of a fake funeral is quite an intriguing one. Death is a subject that we don't talk about enough, it's kind of a taboo subject and being faced with it front on, makes you really reassess your life.

KIM KI HO (Translation):  I hope you have a life that you don't regret in the next life. Now it's time for you to face your death.

REPORTER:  Being in the room as people were stepping into the coffins and preparing to be dead was quite an eerie experience. I was amazed at how emotional everybody was in the ceremony.

WOMAN (Translation): I'm so sorry.  I hate myself for being a weak mum.  I don't think I've ever said I love you.  I love you. 

REPORTER:  It was surprising to learn that the suicide rate amongst the elderly is even higher than that of young people, almost double. One day we started our filming day arriving at a senior citizens centre which is a place where people in their 80s and 90s to go and learn dancing and drumming and kind of enjoy themselves in their old age. But then just a kilometre down the road, we went to a suburb, which is quite a poor suburb, we met some social workers who took us on a tour of the area.

LEE, SOCIAL WORKER (Translation):  The reasons the elderly kill themselves are alienation, loneliness and the depression those cause. If we visit them for a chat, even if it’s a short visit it helps them to remember that they haven’t been forgotten.

REPORTER:  Making stories for Dateline can be challenging. It's quite hard to get people to open up about their personal lives and sensitive issues about loneliness. But in this case, it was kind of the opposite. The two social workers took us in to meet a 90-year-old lady who is on her own. She is mostly blind.

LEE (Translation):  How are you feeling? We just dropped by because the weather is cold.

WOMAN (Translation):  Health is the most important thing.

REPORTER:  She grabbed my hand and she held on to it for about half an hour while she talked and just kept rubbing it and feeling it.

WOMAN (Translation):  That’s okay, let’s see how cold your hands are.

REPORTER:  She forgot I was there not filming here because I started to chat to her. She forgot that the camera was rolling.

WOMAN (Translation):  Gosh your hands are cold. Close the door, it’s cold.

LEE (Translation):  You should wear gloves.

WOMAN (Translation):  What do I say?

LEE (Translation):  Glove. Glove. I don’t know any English.

REPORTER:  It was quite a standout moment when I was there, but often what is a standout moment when you are somewhere, is not necessarily a standout moment on camera.

LEE (Translation):  Take care.

WOMAN (Translation):  Same to you.


The Survivors Guide to Gaza.
Reporters:  Brett Mason & Will West
July 2016

MELINDA YOUNG: We consider Gaza by 2020 to be an unliveable place.

MUIN (Translation):  There’s no electricity, no water, nothing.

REPORTER:  If you ask somebody about Gaza, the chances are they will say it's very poor and it’s very dangerous.
What is your dream?

SARI: To live in peace.

REPORTER:  What this story was all about was delving deeper below the politics, below the warfare and finding out the realities of living somewhere so dangerous and so insecure.

IYAD (Translation):   When the IDF got inside, they started shooting everywhere. They fired live bullets into the walls.

REPORTER:  We wanted to show innovation and we wanted to show resilience. Good.

MAN:  Good.

ABD (Translation):   We try to be innovative and to do things ourselves.

AHMAD, MUSHROOM FARMER (Translation):  Life will continue by the grace of God Almighty, not by the UN deciding whether it should continue or not.

REPORTER:  It's a pretty nerve wracking experience crossing into Gaza. You can hear gunfire and you can see military moving around, the security situation meant that things could escalate very quickly so we were constantly conscious of the fact that this could become an active war zone very, very quickly so you've got that playing on your mind. And that gave us a real insight into what every day must be like for the people who live in Gaza.

MAN (Translation):  What’s up? Spying on us for Hamas?

REPORTER:  It wasn't a hard story to tell. It was a hard story to film but the stories told themselves. One of the most amazing people we met during our time in Gaza, was Sumaya. When we arrived, we found her in the dirt, working away, cooking this huge meal for her family.

SUMAYA (Translation): Mulukhiyah is the best dish I cook for my family. They love it.  We have it every day, it is our main meal.

REPORTER:  Sumaya is a mother of six, she has four young boys and two young girls including a newborn.

SUMAYA (Translation):   Our situation is horrible. My kids sleep on top of each other on the bed. In winter, all of us sleep on the bed. We have water dripping, leaking from outside.

REPORTER:   We went to see this family because a charity in Gaza has provided them with a greenhouse and a solar oven so that they can grow their own food, and then cook it which is pretty extraordinary because one of the biggest issues in Gaza is food security.

SUMAYA (Translation):  Do you want the recipe?

REPORTER:  At this huge lunch that Sumaya had prepared for us. She calls us over to the solar oven and says "I have a surprise for you." Out of this solar oven in the buffer zone on the Gaza strip comes a chocolate cake that Sumaya had prepared for us. It was just one of those moments where we were so kind of taken back. It's the last thing you expect to do but there we are, sitting down eating chocolate cake with Sumaya and her family.

SUMAYA (Translation):  My eldest. Mohammed, he is eleven, in year five. What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to be?

MOHAMMED (Translation):  Anything…a doctor.

SUMAYA (Translation):  A doctor, to help the sick people.

REPORTER:  It's hard because you become really attached to the characters that you meet when you are filming stories for Dateline. Sumaya had a huge impact on me and she still does.


Canada’s Open House.
Reporters:  Amos Roberts & Joel Tozer.
September 2016

REPORTER:  In just over a year, Canada's accepted more than 30,000 Syrian refugees.

DAWN:  How are you?

REPORTER:  More than a third of them are privately sponsored. That means they end up in hundreds of different communities across the country, including a whole lot of small towns and villages.

MAN (Translation):  Stretch your arms and do this, under the water. Yes, like that. Arms and legs. Good.

DAWN:  It’s sad. A year ago imagine this happening. It's beyond - it's beyond imagining.

REPORTER:  I wanted to show Alaa and his barbershop, just because it showed how well some of the families were fitting in. He had only been in the country a few months and he had already opened up a business that the locals were lining up to visit.

WOMAN:  I wonder if we can get this gentleman a haircut today?

REPORTER: You hear so many people talking about refugees as if they are some kind of burden. In Alaa's case, it was the exact opposite.

MAN:  Good morning, Alaa, how are you this morning? A beautiful day. A beautiful day. Yes.

WOMAN:  He is doing a beautiful job.

MAN:  You go to the other places here in town to get your hair cut and it's mostly lady's hairdressers. They do men’s cut, they will do it for you but it's nice to come in here, here is a Popular Science magazine. You are not looking at Ladies Home Journal.

WOMAN: No cosmopolitan. Not many men's places left are there?

MAN: Not around here, I don't know of any around here. We have been here a while and it’s the first time I’ve seen a men’s barber shop.

REPORTER:  So it took a Syrian refugee to bring something that the town really needed?

WOMAN:  That's right.

MAN: Whether the town knew it or not, they needed it.

REPORTER:  I think the women of Shelbourne were very grateful to have the man, the sponsors told me that the town's men were looking a lot better groomed than they had been.
Have you had this done before?

MAN:  No.

REPORTER:  This man scaping routine certainly raised some eyebrows and removed some too.

MAN:  Oh yeah. Thank you very much, man. I appreciate what you've done.


From Miscarriage to Murder.
Reporters: Evan Williams, Calliste Weitenberg & Charlotte Gammon.
November 2016

REPORTER:  In From Miscarriage to Murder, we travelled to El Salvador to investigate the country's anti-abortion laws. The country has one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world and abortion is 100% illegal there, even in cases of rape. We had heard of instances where the law had been taken to the next extreme and used against women who suffer a late-term miscarriage.

DENNIS MUNOZ (Translation):  Her mother took her to the only hospital because she was constantly bleeding and she was in a very bad state. And this is how Elizabeth found out, after being treated, that her newborn son had died.

REPORTER:  Now she is accused of having an abortion, a serious criminal offence, if found guilty at this hearing she could be jailed for 50 years.

ELIZABETH (Translation): I want to know if I'm getting out, if I can go home and be with my son. That's what I need and for this nightmare to be over. That's all.

REPORTER:  Getting access to these women's villages and the homes where the events took place was in the end impossible. The villages are all controlled by El Salvador's gangs and filming there, would have put not only ourselves but also the lives of these women at risk. In the case of Maria Josephina, was we gave a GoPro camera to her fourteen year old son and he filmed her for us with her telling us about what took place and the events around her daughters miscarriage.

REPORTER:  Her 34 week old baby was unexpectedly born into the latrine amongst a great deal of blood.

MARIA JOSEFINA (Translation):  This is where she started to bleed profusely. I was frightened. I didn't know what to do. She wasn't talking. She wasn't responding.

REPORTER:  Evelyn was rushed to hospital but with no sign of her baby, doctors reported her to the police for abortion.

MARIA JOSEFINA (Translation):  This is her room. These are Evelyn's stuffed toys. Here is her handbag.

REPORTER: All of this after she had been forced to have sex with a violent gang member.

REPORTER:  Being a woman in El Salvador is extraordinarily difficult. The sexual violence there is extremely present. It's all related to the gangs here and none of this is considered by El Salvador’s abortion law. Just how fragile women's rights are in El Salvador was confirmed when we met a doctor who was performing illegal abortions.

DOCTOR (Translation):  Because of the social situation of violence that we are going through in the country, murders, rapes, it's every day to the point that we see that as something normal.  We don't get shocked by this fact.

REPORTER:  Why do you do this? Would you be charged with a criminal charge?

DOCTOR (Translation):  Sadly, our health system tries to pretend these cases do not exist. But there is a reality outside. And if I don't help these women, I who am trained, who has the experience, there's going to be someone from the black market who is going to do it and not in the best conditions. 

REPORTER:  With your experience, should women really be put in jail for going through this?

DOCTOR (Translation):  In my opinion that shouldn't be deprived of freedom to abortion.  In the end, if it wasn't spontaneous and was a personal decision, which she is responsible for, she has the right to decide.

REPORTER:  We really wanted to include the secret doctor in our story, the fact that he is being forced to operate outside the law as a practitioner, reflects the nature of this law and how it works. Everybody is being pushed to extremes, but at the end of the day, this was a about the women. And although he is fighting for women's rights, it’s not his story. It's the story of the women and we wanted to give them a voice and prioritise their voices in the story. So, in the end, unfortunately we had to lose him.


story producer
ana maria quinn

story editor
simon phegan

micah mcgown
simon phegan
david potts

original music
vicki Hansen

7th February 2017