This is a story I have been following since it first appeared on Survival International‘s news site, concerning The Observer‘s article suggesting that the “uncontacted tribes” in the Amazon were a hoax. While there has been some controversy among anthropologists without any real connection to struggles for indigenous rights as to whether it is “anthropologically correct” to speak of “uncontacted” tribes, it is clear that SI never intended for the idea to be that some mythical lost tribes had been found, and that the definition of “uncontacted tribe” is in practice quite specific and in use by the Brazilian government’s equivalent of a bureau of indigenous affairs, FUNAI. In addition, it is a term that has more public and media resonance than, for example, my own suggestion about “autarkic” tribes (given that the word involves such unthinkable notions for contemporary modernity that the word has virtually been deleted from usage). Nonetheless, it is clear from SI’s coverage that these tribes prefer isolation, and I strongly support their wise choice. Theirs has been a successful resistance strategy.
The British newspaper The Observer, whose misleading article about Survival’s release of photos of uncontacted Indians led to false reports that they were a hoax, has now admitted that its story was ‘’inaccurate, misleading [and] distorted.’The author of the article, Observer World Affairs Editor Peter Beaumont, had initially threatened to sue Survival for libel for suggesting that his article had been misleading and responsible for the ‘hoax’ stories.
After the paper refused to publish a retraction, Survival made a formal complaint to the UK’s Press Complaints Commission. The Commission’s investigation has now prompted the Observer to issue its climbdown.
In its apology the paper also admits that the photos and Survival’s accompanying press release were ‘perfectly valid.’
Survival International Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The Observer’s original article was doubly damaging: firstly, because it suggested that we had misled people, and secondly because it was used by those opposed to tribal peoples’ rights to suggest that the photos of uncontacted Amazon Indians were faked.
‘On top of all that, the paper then not only initially refused to apologise for its misleading and inaccurate article, but the journalist who wrote the story actually threatened to sue Survival!
‘Much of Survival’s strength lies in our reputation for rigorous and accurate reporting of tribal peoples’ issues. We will defend that reputation to the hilt, and we’re pleased that the Observer has finally admitted that it was wrong.’