World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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6 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 14

A meeting of indigenous people from around the world has called on the world's media to stop oppressing them by reinforcing negative stereotypes. Dr Anne Pattel-Gray, an Aboriginal theologian from Australia, moderated the indigenous peoples' meeting held as part of the World Council of Churches Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Dr Pattel-Gray said Sunday (6 December): "Journalists are oppressing indigenous people today as surely as colonialists did in the past. They are vilifying us. They are destroying people's lives. They have blood on their hands.

"Indigenous people around the globe face a constant barrage of negative media images about themselves. We are portrayed as savages, heathens, drunks, lazy no-hopers. Why are there always negative stories when so many positive stories are going unreported?

"It's easy to be a lazy journalist and keep repeating all the old stereotypes. Our appeal to media people is to forget the stereotypes and search for the truth.

"The media are powerful. Do journalists know what they are doing to indigenous people? Do they know what happens to people who are constantly misrepresented, who are made to seem second-rate, sometimes less than human? It's causing people to lose their self-esteem and their sense of worth.

"Do journalists know what happens to people who are constantly put down, whose culture and way of life are constantly vilified? It destroys people. It leads people to despair. No wonder some indigenous people seek refuge in the bottle. It's an anaesthetic. It helps people forget.

"The constant negative reporting is destroying people's pride in themselves. It's destroying our hope. That can lead to problems with drugs and even to suicide. That's why I say the people responsible for all this negative reporting have blood on their hands.

"How can this be? Why is this the case? Who benefits? In a world of multi-million media empires driven by ruthless greed and "global market forces', how can indigenous peoples expect fair, true and just representation in the media?"

Dr Pattel-Gray also had a challenge for the Assembly. "The WCC must build on the good work that was done at the last Assembly in Canberra (1991)," she said. "Canberra was the first Assembly in which indigenous people were well represented. Not only that, the voice of indigenous people from around the world was heard clearly by the WCC through representatives of indigenous people from Australia.

"We hope the WCC at this Assembly will reaffirm the Canberra statement on indigenous peoples and land rights We also hope the WCC will include indigenous people's programmes in its core programmes.

"We hope the WCC will promote equal participation of indigenous people at every level of decision-making within the structures of the churches. Things are improving. But there is still some way to go before we achieve full partnership.

"We also hope the WCC and its member churches will respect and promote the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination. That includes land rights, spiritualities, culture, languages and intellectual property rights.

"We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the WCC -- but we want to remind our brothers and sisters of the member churches of the need for the restoration of the land and the liberation of the oppressed."

****Dr Pattel-Gray is the author of "Media Representation and Indigenous Peoples", newly published by the World Association for Christian Communication, London.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.