Pilger and Simpson urge journalists to drop ‘stone age’ and ‘primitive’

February 17, 2006

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John Pilger and BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson have urged fellow journalists not to use terms such as ‘stone age' and ‘primitive' to describe contemporary tribal peoples, in a letter published in the Financial Times.

‘These terms are dangerous because, aside from being often implicitly pejorative, they are used to justify the persecution of tribal people,' the letter states. ‘Governments, such as in Indonesia and Botswana, claim that forcibly ‘developing' tribes is for their own good and helps them to ‘catch up' with the ‘civilized' world. The results are almost always catastrophic for those involved.'

The letter comes after a number of British newspapers used terms like ‘savage', ‘stone age' and ‘one of the most primitive tribes on earth' to describe the Sentinelese, who live in almost complete isolation on North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean.

The Sentinelese recently hit the world's headlines after they killed two men who had illegally entered their waters. Indian law prohibits non-Sentinelese from coming within five kilometres of North Sentinel Island in order to protect the tribespeoples' food resources, which are under constant threat from outsiders and upon which the Sentinelese totally depend. In recent years, a number of Sentinelese themselves have been killed by outsiders and, as a result, the arrival of any non-Sentinelese is seen as hostile.

The letter was also signed by Christopher Booker, Sandy Gall and George Monbiot.

Survival International's Director's, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘Journalists all around the world need to understand that the use of these kinds of terms is not only inaccurate, but extremely harmful. They foster prejudices which lead directly to tribal peoples' suffering. We are delighted that such high-profile journalists have taken up this cause and we hope that many other journalists will follow their lead.'

To find out more about Survival's campaign to stamp out racism against tribal people in the media, click here

For more information call Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]