Guilty: Australia’s Channel 7 censured over ‘racist’ infanticide report

September 23, 2012

Paul Raffaele said a Suruwaha girl refused to shake his hand because she wanted to kill him. In fact, he was wearing so much sun cream the Suruwaha thought he had a skin disease. © Channel 7

This page was created in 2012 and may contain language which is now outdated.

Australia’s Channel 7 network has been found guilty by the press regulator of serious violations of the broadcasting code, after screening a report so extreme it was branded ‘Freakshow TV’ by Survival International.

The report labelled Brazil’s Suruwaha tribe as child murderers; ‘Stone Age’ relics; and ‘one of the worst human rights violators in the world’.

Survival complained to Australia’s regulator ACMA after Channel 7 refused Survival’s request to issue a correction to its report, broadcast on its Sunday Night programme.

In a landmark judgment, ACMA has now ruled that the Channel was guilty of breaking its racism clause – ‘provoking intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a person or group’ – believed to be the first time it has found a broadcaster guilty of this serious offence under the 2010 TV Code. It has also ruled that the Channel was guilty of broadcasting inaccurate material.

Liquid error: internal

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘This was one of the worst reports about contemporary tribal people we’d ever seen. The Indians were made out to be cruel and inhuman monsters, in the spirit of 19th century colonialist scorn for ‘primitive savages’.

‘What makes it even worse is that the Suruwaha have been under attack by fundamentalist missionaries for years, who are waging a campaign slandering them as child-murderers. The missionaries are behind a draft law to allow them to remove Indian children from their communities, something with horrifying echoes of the Stolen Generations scandal.

The report portrays the Suruwaha as the 'worst human rights violators in the world'. © Adriana Huber/Survival

‘The Channel 7 crew told the Suruwaha they wanted to allow them to put their side of the story – but actually produced one of the most grotesquely distorted pictures of a tribal people we can remember. The programme even openly fundraised for the missionaries on its website. We hope this ruling will mean we’re less likely to see such dangerous rubbish on TV in the future.’

Channel 7 is seeking a judicial review of the ruling in Australia’s Federal Court.

Note to Editors:

1. Survival has written a set of ethical guidelines to help filmmakers work responsibly with tribal peoples. It is also using its Stamp it Out campaign to challenge racist depictions, however unwitting, in the media.

2. Previously, Survival has highlighted how British TV company Cicada Films was accused of irresponsibly endangering the lives of Peruvian Indians by allegedly provoking a flu epidemic amongst them; and how a TV series about an Amazonian tribe
was labeled ‘staged, false, fabricated and distorted’ by experts.

3. Forms of infanticide are found in all societies, including industrialized ones. The practice is rare and dying out amongst Amazon Indians. Survival opposes non-consensual practices, however ‘traditional’, which hurt or kill people. This includes infanticide.

4. Download a Survival briefing sheet on the proposed ‘Muwaji’s law’, the result of a campaign in Brazil by the fundamentalist missionary organization JOCUM (pdf, 70 KB). JOCUM are the Brazilian branch of the US organization Youth with a Mission.

5. Download a briefing sheet on what experts and Indians say about JOCUM’s infanticide allegations (pdf, 49 KB).

6. Download Survival’s letter to Channel 7 (pdf, 217 KB).

7. Download statements from Suruwaha Indians about the Channel 7 report (pdf, 33 KB).

8. Download a Survival briefing sheet on the Suruwaha tribe (pdf, 37 KB).