Thursday, March 27, 2008

British TV crew 'spread deadly flu to remote Peruvian tribe'

A British production company making a reality television show in the Peruvian Amazon has been accused of starting a flu epidemic which allegedly killed four members of a remote native tribe and left many others seriously ill.

Indigenous communities blamed researchers from London-based Cicada Films for the outbreak in the isolated Matsigenka tribe where people had previously had little contact with Western diseases.

The company has flatly denied its two-strong team was responsible, insisting they did not visit the area hit by the flu, and did not meet any of those who died.

The Native Federation of River Madre de Dios and Subdiaries, which represents local tribes, accused the film-makers of "threatening the lives of the local people" and called for all film and television companies to be banned from the area.

Dr Glenn Shephard, an American anthropologist who has studied the Matsigenka for 20 years and speaks their language fluently, said he met the research team in the less isolated village of Yomybato where Westerners are allowed to go.

They were scouting film opportunities for The Learning Channel's reality TV series "Going Tribal" and a sequel to Mark Anstice's and Ollie Steeds's TV series "Living with the Kombai" which was based in New Guinea and aired on the Discovery Channel.

After arriving in Yomybato one of the crew had seemed dismayed at seeing people wearing Western clothes, playing football and going to school in a government-equipped schoolhouse, according to Dr Shephard.

The researcher was said to have declared: "The shorts, the guys playing soccer, the school...that just won't cut it."

They were then said to have learnt about more remote settlements where there were no Western influences.

Dr Shephard said: "I warned them specifically that their visit to the isolated villages of the Cumerjali could pose a health risk to the people there through contagion from a simple cold which could turn into virulent pneumonia.

"I was very surprised, even shocked, to learn that they intended to visit these remote, isolated settlements in initial phases of Western contact."

The crew left Yomybato on Oct 19 with a team of local helpers, he claimed. Dr Shephard said that on Nov 10 a man named Kian-Kian emerged from the upper Cumerjali to inform the people of Yomybato that the film crew had visited his community and that, allegedly soon after, four people had died.

"If they return, they'll wipe the rest of us out," Kian-Kian told witnesses in Yomybato.

The film company said in a statement: "There is no evidence that the researcher introduced illness to the areas they visited. He did not seek out or visit isolated communities upriver.

"The researcher and his guide did not visit the area where the deaths are said to have occurred and no deaths occurred amongst the individuals they met.

"The researcher worked with experienced local guides and the relevant authorities who have jurisdiction over the Park. They at all times followed correct procedure and worked with the necessary permits for entry into the park At no time did the Cicada researcher go outside the area of their permit and traveled only a short distance from the large town Yomibato.

"Cicada Productions has not been making a series in Manu National Park and has never had a film crew there."

The company has made over 50 programmes since 1984 for channels including Channel 4, ITV, Discovery and the BBC.

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival, an international organisation that supports tribal peoples across the world, said: "This controversy highlights how the interests and welfare of tribal people can potentially be put at risk by reality TV programmes chasing ratings.

"Since the success of the BBC's Tribe series, which brought tribal peoples' lives to the small screen in a sensitive way, there has been a whole rash of bizarre and extreme programmes on the subject. The key principles here are sensitivity and accuracy, something TV companies are often not good at."

Original here

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