4. Guidelines for Filming Vulnerable Subjects

CBC does not have specific guidelines for filming vulnerable subjects. Enkin says that there is policy surrounding grief and suffering that is meant to cover people who have endured trauma and may not be in the best position to make a decision. The policy cautions that a journalist must be respectful and not exploit a source. The policy does not specifically discuss seeking consent. Was filming Mohamed exploitative because of the situation he was in? According to Enkin, that’s a judgement call.

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Enkin says Mohamed was in a public place and that he elected to take a certain course of action for which he hoped there would be a certain outcome. The issue was clearly in the public interest as it addressed a growing concern for the Canadian government. The video was a powerful illustration of the risks asylum seekers face and, as such, was no more exploitative than many other well-established newsgathering practices, Enkin says.

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Enkin also observes that journalists need to think more carefully now than ever before about identifying vulnerable subjects, given the permanent record that is digital video. “There needs to be a lot of thought about protecting people’s identity more so than I would have said a few years ago just because of the ubiquitous nature of how things are generated and live forever,” Enkin says.

Understanding a journalist’s obligations to a vulnerable source can be challenging—for starters, is it even reasonable to expect a journalist (who may lack the necessary expertise) to be able to assess the harm a subject is facing? Then there’s the matter of the journalist’s duty to its audience, and how the potential for harm has to be balanced with the public interest

According to The Canadian Press, the media should do their work with compassion and respect for individual privacy. The wire service also offers guidelines on keeping an individual’s grief private, stating that it respects privacy and does not exploit grief to enhance the news. CP also states that “public interest must also be carefully weighed when deciding whether to publish the identity of a victim”.

In 2015, the Dart Centre Europe held a workshop at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Germany on interviewing refugees. At the workshop, Dr. Iris Grad-Calliess, head clinician at the Centre for Transcultural Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in Germany, said that “a dysfunctional memory is a typical effect of trauma.” Journalists need to be careful that they don’t jump to the wrong conclusions. A person who may have lost everything and is still likely in an uncertain situation may feel disempowered. Journalists shouldn’t make their sources feel powerless. At the same workshop, Misty Buswell, a communications director for Save the Children, said that no report on refugees should include the combined information of a full name, a recognizable face and the exact location of the person.

Next: 5. The Ethics Around Calling the Cops