Aug. 1, 2021

7: Going undercover always carries a risk – Ed Davey, environmental investigative journalist

This episode features Ed Davey, the head of rainforest investigations at the international NGO Global Witness, where he leads a team dedicated to exposing the destruction of the world’s most important rainforests in Brazil, the Congo Basin and Papua New Guinea. In 2018 he helped reveal how the world’s top three commodity traders were embroiled in one of the biggest corruption cases of all time. Previously he spent eight years specialising in undercover journalism at the BBC where his work was featured on programmes such as Panorama, Newsnight, and the national News at Six, as well as writing for publications including the New Statesman and the Mail on Sunday. At 38, he’s also the author of three novels – Foretold by Thunder, The Napoleon Complex and The Killing Gene – published under the name EM Davey. He has visited more than 60 countries and African countries feature in all his novels.

In this episode, we chat about what it’s like to work in investigative journalism for an NGO, getting the low-down on how Global Witness carries out its campaigns focused on complex international corruption and environmental crime, and how the job differs to working for a media outlet. We also hear eye-opening stories from Ed’s career as a journalist going undercover to expose everything from unscrupulous building firms to unethical fertility clinics, and learn about his astonishing trip to Benin, West Africa, to make a BBC documentary about voodoo sorcery after a friend told him he’d seen a voodoo priest cut off his wife’s head and then reattach it…

1:32 becoming a published author

6:41 sharing a name with a famous politician

8:37 transitioning from the BBC to campaigning journalism 

12:50 calling on companies to take action on deforestation

15:33 getting decision-makers to take action on findings

17:30 the inside track on Global Witness investigations

21:00 justifying long-haul flights as an environmental campaigner

24:18 going undercover

28:12 Ed’s most impactful investigation

30:07 evaluating the impact of investigations 

35:47 risks in undercover operations

39:24 voodoo in Benin

44:44 Tips for getting into campaigning journalism

Useful links:

Check out Ed’s website

Check out Ed’s novels

Check out Ed’s BBC World Service documentary on voodoo sorcery in Benin

Check out this BBC undercover investigation into building test centres Ed worked on 

Check out Ed’s BBC undercover investigation into Romanian labourers’ working standards 

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Follow Susannah Birkwood on Twitter: @Susannahbirkwoo