WITNESS Ethical Guidelines

ANNOUNCING WITNESS’ ETHICAL GUIDELINES FOR USING EYEWITNESS FOOTAGE IN HUMAN RIGHTS

Big shout out to our colleagues from WITNESS, who just released an important new resource  on using eyewitness videos in human rights reporting and advocacy in an ethical way. I consider this a highly relevant resource for everyone working with citizen media. This posting by Madeleine Bair was originally published by the WITNESS Media Lab.

In June of 2009, the image of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death on the street in Tehran was caught on video and shared on YouTube, news media, and Twitter, became a striking symbol of Iran’s Green Revolution, and an ethical predicament for millions of viewers who never knew her: What did it mean to witness the last moments of this young woman’s life?

Six years later, we are still wrestling with that question and many others surrounding the ethics of sharing online videos of injustice and abuse. The amount of bystander footage shared online has skyrocketed, becoming a critical aspect of news and human rights reporting. And yet it seems like every day we are faced with a new dilemma concerning the ethics of watching and sharing footage that is often intimate, horrific, or decontextualized.

Does sharing videos by extremist organizations aid their goals of provoking fear and glamorizing violence, or is it a necessary part of news gathering? Should eyewitnesses be asked permission before their videos are broadcast by news media, or would that hinder the reporting process? How can investigators and advocates report on abuse caught on camera without violating the privacy or impacting the security of those seen on video?

For newsrooms, crisis responders, and human rights investigators, traditional protocols and guidelines have not kept up with these new challenges. While codes of ethics instruct us to do no harm, there is little by way of guidance to apply that principle when working with videos that we ourselves did not produce—footage filmed by bystanders, activists, victims, survivors, and sometimes perpetrators of abuse. Read full article