Outrage over 'freakshow TV' portraying indigenous people as savages

By staff writers
March 7, 2012

An Australian television report that branded an Amazon tribe as child murderers has been condemned in a new campaign against the racist depiction of tribal peoples in the media.

The report labelled the tribe as “Stone Age people” and the “worst human rights violators in the world”.

It has become the first target of the “Freakshow TV” campaign, launched by Survival International. They aim to challenge the depiction of tribal people as primitive, backward savages.

The broadcast on Australia's Channel 7 Sunday Night show featured “adventurer” Paul Raffaele and reporter Tim Noonan visiting Brazil’s Suruwaha tribe.

Suruwaha have already been targeted by fundamentalist missionaries, who say they regularly kill newborn babies. According to Survival, this claim is entirely false. The missionaries have lobbied Brazil’s Congress to pass a law allowing Indian children to be removed from their families.

The Indians allowed the Channel 7 team into their territory after Mr Raffaele said he wanted to film a “positive report”.

But their report has generated a firestorm of protests, with Survival International’s director denouncing it as “one of the most biased, misleading and disgusting reports we’ve ever seen”.

The broadcast described the Indians as “a true suicide cult” and “lost in time”. The tribe is said to “encourage the murder of disabled children…in the most gruesome way possible”. They are accused of taking “poor little innocent babes into the jungle to be eaten alive by wild beasts”.

The report’s website is also openly fundraising for an evangelical organisation associated with the anti-Indian campaign.

Survival wrote to Channel 7 outlining the many errors and distortions in the report, but the Channel has rejected all the accusations. Australia’s broadcasting regulator ACMA has now opened a formal investigation.

Raffaele, previously a writer for Smithsonian Magazine, has been in trouble before – for a very similar Channel 9 report in 2006, in which he claimed a Papuan boy was in danger of being eaten by his tribe. Raffaele described them as “Stone Age cannibals”. The broadcast was widely attacked by experts.

Web giant Yahoo is in partnership with Channel 7 in Australia. Survival has written to Yahoo urging them to remove the report from their website, but has received no reply.

“The Indians are made out to be cruel and inhuman monsters, in the spirit of 19th century colonialist scorn,” said an angry Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International.

He added, “It’s clearly designed to have the same effect – to suggest that they don’t deserve any rights. The idea that such nonsense is supposed to help tribal children is breathtaking.”

The organisation says that forms of infanticide are found in all societies, including industrialised ones. Survival emphasise that they oppose non-consensual practices, however “traditional” which hurt or kill people.

Survival have written a set of ethical guidelines to help filmmakers work responsibly with tribal peoples. They are also using their “Stamp it Out” campaign to challenge racist depictions, however unwitting, in the media.


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