Survival complains to OFCOM over "racist" Channel 4 News piece

September 22, 2016

Channel Four made wide-ranging accusations against Brazilian tribes in its news report © Channel Four news

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Survival International has lodged a formal complaint to OFCOM over a Channel Four News report which alleged that many Brazilian tribes routinely kill disabled children, a claim widely attacked by experts.

The report focussed on Atini, an evangelical mission in Brazil which takes in children from the Suruwaha and other tribal groups. It also expressed support for Muwaji’s Law, a measure proposed by evangelicals and conservative members of the Brazilian congress which could give authorities the power to break up Indigenous families on suspicion of infanticide.

Survival’s legal team has lodged a complaint to OFCOM, the UK government’s broadcasting regulator, citing the report’s lack of impartiality and its failure to give viewers all the relevant facts.

In the complaint, Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “Infanticide among the tribe to which Muwaji and her daughter belong, the Suruwaha, is extremely rare. Among isolated tribal communities in the Amazon generally, many anthropologists believe that infanticide is equally rare.

The Suruwaha have frequently suffered exaggerated press reports of infanticide, used as a pretext for denying their rights © Armando Soares Filho/FUNAI/Survival

“Channel 4’s reporter made no reference at all to this body of opinion, either because he was not aware of its existence when he should have been or because he thought that this might reduce the dramatic impact of the story.”

At a conference on the issue of infanticide arranged by UNICEF in 2009, a Brazilian Indian said: “The draft law [Muwaji’s Law] is racist because it does not consider or even mention that non-Indians kill their children much more. If the white people commit this crime more frequently than the Indians, why is a law just against Indians being pushed forward? The white people kill us and they are not detained. We face a racist law: our assassins are not incriminated by a specific law, but we are.”

Exaggerated reports of infanticide and other practices have long been used to undermine tribal peoples’ rights, even though they occur at least as frequently in industrial societies.

Muwaji’s Law is backed by evangelicals and conservative members of Brazil’s congress. It enables the authorities to take tribal children away from their families and requires all members of a community to tell the authorities about any pregnant woman in a “situation of risk.” The law applies to everyone, including expectant fathers and other family members. All those who fail to report the pregnancy, whether real or merely suspected, commit a crime for which they can be prosecuted.

The mother and father are apparently to have few rights in this process. The proposed law does not allow them to challenge in court the potential decision to offer their child for adoption, once it has been taken away from them. It gives them no right to be told where their child has been taken, or to be provided with any other information about it, or even to maintain any relationship with it.