The Machigenga tribe live in the Amazon rainforest. Photograph: Glenn Shepard/Survival International
A series about an Amazonian tribe that aired on the BBC has been accused of "faking" scenes and mistranslating interviews to negatively portray the tribe as "sex-obsessed, mean savages", according to accusations made by two eminent experts.
The show, called Mark & Olly: Living with the Machigenga, was shown on BBC Knowledge in South Africa in June and July last year and by the Travel Channel in the US in 2009, and made by Paddington-based Cicada Productions.
The six-part series followed travellers Mark Anstice and Olly Steeds journeying to live in the remote Matisgenka Indian village in the Amazon rainforest over a period of several months.
However, the show has been called "staged, false, fabricated and distorted" by Dr Glenn Shepard, an anthropologist who has worked with the tribe for 25 years and speaks their language fluently, and Ron Snell, who grew up with the tribe as the son of US missionaries and also speaks their language.
Dr Shepard has written an article in the latest issue of Anthropology News outlining the alleged misrepresentations and in a longer piece on his blog he argues that the show is an example of "reality TV reach[ing] new depths of irresponsibility".
Shepard accuses the show of "fabricating" many of the translations in order to present a "false and insulting" portrayal of the tribe. Examples include inaccurate references to the sex life of the tribe as well as their supposed hostile attitude to outsiders.
Other accusations include "staging" events, such as a pig dance which Snell says on his own blog he has never heard of in 35 years of living in the tribe's villages, and scenes such as initiation trials, being forced to sleep outside and taking a psychoactive drink before going on a "phony" pilgrimage.
"I am shocked by Mark & Olly's narcissistic antics, their gross misrepresentations of Matsigenka culture, and their disregard for consequences inflicted on native communities," said Shepard. "I wonder what Living with the Machigenga was modelled on. Borat comes to mind."
BBC Worldwide said it had acquired the show from Fremantle Media and that there were no plans to air it again. "BBC Worldwide is committed to the highest editorial standards and will examine the claims made," said a spokesman. "We have only just been made aware of these concerns and we are in discussion with Fremantle to establish the full facts."
FremantleMedia Enterprises, which distributes the show, said the series was made by Cicada Productions. "FME did not make this programme. However, we are investigating the claims made earlier today," said a spokeswoman for FME.
A spokesman for Cicada Productions said that the company was not aware of the issue and did not have a statement at this time.
Survival International, the human rights organisation which has released the information about the discrepancies in the making of the show, said it was a "depressing example" of the way tribal people are routinely portrayed on TV.
"One stereotype followed another, with the [tribe] variously portrayed as callous, perverted, cruel, and savage," said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International. "TV is now getting away with portrayals which wouldn't be out of place in the Victorian era."
The same series also courted controversy in 2008 when a scouting expedition among the Matsigenka tribe prior to filming was said to have provoked a flu epidemic killing four. Cicada Films denied the accusations, claiming at the time that when they arrived in the area local people were already ill.