Published January, 2016 by Madeleine Bair in Update
Ethical Wednesdays: Additional Resources on Ethics and Eyewitness Footage
For the past three months, WITNESS has been sharing work from our new Ethical Guidelines for Using Eyewitness Videos for Human Rights and Advocacy. We wrap up our blog series by sharing a few of the resources that provided us with valuable expertise and perspectives in our work to develop guidelines (the full series can be found here).
Not all of the resources below are aimed at human rights documentation, and not all specifically address eyewitness footage. But the challenge ensuring that new forms of information gathering and data management are implemented safely and ethically affects many industries, and the following guidance from the fields of crisis response, journalism, and advocacy is relevant to our own work using eyewitness footage for human rights. (For a full list of the resources we referred to in our Ethical Guidelines, download the guide for a complete list in the appendix.)
ICRC’s Professional Standards for Protection Work Carried out by Humanitarian and human rights actors in armed conflict and other situations of violence – The 2nd Edition of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s manual includes new chapters developed to address the ethics of new technologies used to collect information and manage data. While not specific to video footage, its chapter on Managing Sensitive Protection Information provides a relevant discussion on the assessing informed of information found online. “It is often very difficult or even impossible to identify the original source of the information found on the Internet and to ascertain whether the information obtained has been collected fairly/lawfully with the informed consent of the persons to whom this data relates. In other words, personal data accessible on the Internet is not always there as a result of a conscious choice of the individuals concerned to share information in the public domain.”
Verification Handbook – A resource from the European Journalism Centre filled with case studies from leaders in the humanitarian, journalism, and human rights sectors on how to verify eyewitness media. For instance, a case study by Stéphanie Durand explains how the circulation of false social media reports could lead to an escalation of violence.
ONA’s Build Your Own Ethics Code – Most journalism codes of ethics haven’t changed in decades. The Online News Association built the foundation of a new ethics code for 21st century newsrooms. It’s comprised of modules users can pick and choose from to custom-design a code that fits their needs, including one on user-generated content.
Ethical & Effective Storytelling in Advocacy – This report by the Human Rights Law Center doesn’t address user-generated content, but includes a nuanced discussion on the risks and ethics of telling other people’s stories, including perspectives from a number of different human rights advocates and researchers.
Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content in TV and Online News Output – This study is an in-depth look at the variety of challenges faced by newsrooms in using eyewitness footage, including inconsistent training for reporters, lack of transparency for audiences, and the potential risks involved in crediting, or not crediting, citizen journalists. The Eyewitness Media Hub, founded by the authors of this report, provides cases studies, guidelines, and other resources for using eyewitness footage safely and ethically.
In WITNESS’s Ethical Guidelines for Using Eyewitness Videos in Human Rights Reporting and Advocacy, you will find these and many other resources. As human rights documentation evolves with new tools and technologies, we will continue to assess the opportunities as well as the potential consequences on those on camera, those behind the camera, and the wider communities affected by video documentation, including those of us watching them on our screens.
We’d love to hear what other resources you would recommend. Share your own standards, guidelines, and challenges in viewing and using eyewitness video safely and ethically. Write in the comments, send us a line on Twitter, or send us an email to feedback [at] witness [dot] org.
For more guidance, see WITNESS’s Ethical Guidelines for Using Eyewitness Videos in Human Rights Reporting and Advocacy. Click here to read all posts in this series.