Charity's fury over Observer report on undiscovered tribe

Human rights charity Survival International today launched an extraordinary attack on foreign editor of the Observer Peter Beaumont – posting a sound file on its website of a phone call in which he threatens to sue them.

Survival has taken umbrage with an Observer report from 22 June in which Beaumont questioned photos of an ‘undiscovered tribe’found in the rainforest on the Brazilian-Peruvian border.

The photos, released by Survival International at the end of May, showed tribesmen firing arrows at the aircraft from which the photos were being taken and the story was followed up around the world.

Beaumont questioned the validity of the story in an Observer piece on 22 June headlined: ‘Secret of the ‘lost’ tribe that wasn’t”.

Beaumont reported: ‘Far from being unknown, the tribe’s existence has been noted since 1910 and the mission to photograph them was undertaken in order to prove that ‘uncontacted’ tribes still existed in an area endangered by the menace of the logging industry.”

Survival International says that ‘other newspapers have picked up the article and gone further and said that the story was a ‘hoax’.”

The charity said: ‘neither the Brazilian government nor Survival has ever claimed that the tribe was ‘undiscovered’ or ‘unknown’. They said only that the tribe was ‘uncontacted’, which was correct.”

Survival says the Observer has refused to publish a clarification.

And today it posted on its website a transcript and audio file of a phone message left by Beaumont on the mobile of a member of staff at Survival International.

In it he said: ‘Hello, this is Peter Beaumont from The Observer here. I’m getting extremely irritated about the way in which you’re associating me with the allegation that you may have been responsible for a hoax.

‘If you use that word once more, either in association with emails or letters sent to my office or anywhere else, I will be taking legal action and I will sue you for defamation or libel, whichever is appropriate. You are really on the brink of going too far, so I suggest you get in touch with me.”

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival, said today: ‘The wave of reports precipitated by Mr Beaumont’s article has seriously undermined the fight for tribal peoples’ rights. So far from taking responsibility for the inaccuracies of his piece, he’s going to sue us unless we keep quiet

‘It might reflect better on The Observer if they simply acknowledged that they had got it wrong, and that our original story was completely accurate.”

A spokesman for The Observer: “The Observer carried a report on Sunday 22 June of photographs by Jose Carlos Meirelles of an isolated Brazilian Indian tribe. The Observer reported that the existence of the tribe had actually been established in 1910, a piece of information of considerable public interest.

“At no point did The Observer suggest that the use of new photographs of the tribe represented a ‘hoax’.”

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