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British reality TV crew accused of causing Peruvian tribal epidemic

by Rachel Thomas
March 27, 2008

An isolated tribe of Peruvian Indians has been hit by a flu epidemic thought to have been the result of contact with a British reality TV company.

Regional Indian rights organisation Fenama, a US anthropologist working in the region and government officials have stated that a two person crew working for the London based Cicada Films went against regulations to visit isolated Indian communities. Fenema accused the film team of journeying upriver and in doing so provoking an epidemic.

Four members of the Peruvian tribe have died from the flu epidemic and others have been left in a perilous condition. Fenema has blamed the TV crew of threatening the lives of Indians. The organisation is currently calling for Cicada Films to be banned from entering the area again.

Cicada was apparently hunting for a location where a TV show for the two British presenters Olly Steeds and Mark Anstice, could be filmed. The presenters would live with a remote tribe in exchange for gifts; following a similar format to episodes by the company filmed in New Guinea.

However the Peruvian government’s protected areas department has claimed that Cicada was only given a permit to visit the community of Yomybato and that it also specifically told the crew to not visit any Indians, stating that the Cicada team entered places that were a part of the strictly prohibited zone.

The television company denied these accusations. In a statement to government officials Cicada stated that it could not have been responsible for the introduction of any reported respiratory diseases, claiming that when they arrived at settlements they were met with people already ill with symptoms and signs of diseases.

Cicada then went on to state that it had only visited settlements to which they had previously already been invited. In a statement issued late yesterday the company then stated that the researcher and his guide did not visit the area where the four deaths occurred, and that no deaths have occurred among people that they encountered.

Dr Glenn Shepard, a US anthropologist met the TV crew on location. He has issued a written statement saying that the crew had complained that the reality TV show demanded that the groups filmed were not westernised. He stated that reality TV has resulted in production companies and TV channels to look for outward, often dangerous and extreme communities.

The director of Survival International (a group for tribal peoples), Stephen Corry, has emphasised how this episode simply highlights how the interests and welfare of tribal people can be potentially put at risk by a chase for ratings by reality TV programmes. He emphasised the need for sensitivity and accuracy, “something TV companies are often not good at”.

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