Monday, June 27, 2022

Dom Phillips is still missing: environmental journalism was a life-threatening job

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Dom took a year off from freelance journalism to write a book about the dangers facing the rainforest. It is an issue that affects the future of all of us

Dom and I were hotel roommates in Recife as we and our diverse friends enjoyed a carnival of football that took us through a complex country that lives for the beautiful game. It was Dom who methodically and with local knowledge organized the accommodation and transport.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I witnessed firsthand the meticulous professionalism of Dom Phillips, the British environmental journalist who is now missing in the Amazon rainforest.

As I write this, he is the subject of a desperate search. Nothing has been heard from him or his companion Bruno Araújo Pereira, a Brazilian expert on indigenous peoples’ rights, since Sunday.

Dom, 57, is very experienced and promised to check in with friends during their trip in the remote Javari Valley. Bruno had received death threats because of his work in an area known for illegal logging and land grabbing. The discovery of personal items belonging to the two men over the weekend has dashed hopes from Dom’s relatives, who no longer believe the couple will be found alive.

Dom took a year off from freelance journalism to write a book about the dangers facing the rainforest. It is an issue that affects the future of all of us.

In parts of the world, environmental journalism has become a life-threatening task, akin to frontline reporting from conflict zones like Ukraine or Syria.

The Brazilian rainforest has become a hostile environment for journalists. The threat does not come from anacondas and piranhas, but from the hired ones gunslingers illegal loggers and ranchers.

“The violence against activists, social and indigenous leaders and journalists is the result of a government that constantly promotes the economy of destruction and violates human rights in the Amazon,” said Carolina Pasquali, executive director of Greenpeace Brazil.

That didn’t deter Dom. He worked on a series for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The guard Highlighting the impact of the meat industry on the Amazon rainforest.

“Dom did important frontline work to expose how the world’s largest beef company, JBS, is washing cattle from illegally logged land in its own trucks, through ‘clean’ farms and into the food chain,” says Meirion Jones, editor of the BIJ and the investigative journalist instrumental in uncovering the crimes of Jimmy Savile.

Dom didn’t need to pursue this type of reporting, important as it is. Earlier in his career he was editor of mixmag, the magazine for dance music. His previous book was called Superstar DJs – Here We Go!, a ’90s tale of hedonistic clubbing and the rise to fame of the likes of Fatboy Slim and Pete Tong. Brazil’s vibrant musical culture was a factor in his love for the country and his decision to live there.

At the time of the World Cup, he was stationed in Rio de Janeiro and commissioned by the Washington Post to document the football jamboree in a travelogue. After meeting in Recife, we traveled to the newly built Arena Pernambuco to watch Ivory Coast beat Japan 2-1.

While my football holiday friends and I marveled at Yaya Touré and Didier Drogba, Dom became interested in the social impact of spending $239m (£195m) on a “shiny concrete” sports venue in a poverty-stricken city. From our hotel room he handed his piece to the postdescribing the enthusiasm of the foreign fans, but noting that for many Brazilians it was a “gringo world cup”.

Dom is a good gringo. “He loves the country and cares deeply about the Amazon and the people there,” his sister Sian said in a video appeal last week. “We knew it was a dangerous place, but Dom really believed it was possible to protect nature and the livelihoods of indigenous people.”

In 2014, Dom and our group headed out to see future champions Germany play in Salvador, the north-east city where he has settled with his Brazilian wife Alessandra, who was overcome last week by her despair at his disappearance spoke.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s callous statement about the couple’s disappearance in a “completely wild region” helps explain why Brazilian authorities wasted 48 hours before dispatching search parties.

Even in the age of all-seeing satellite technology, we need journalists on the ground to expose the destruction of the planet by regimes that threaten us all by enabling climate change. We owe a collective debt of gratitude to Dom Phillips, as well as to his friend and colleague Bruno Pereira.

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