Video‐making and distribution can introduce significant new risks to vulnerable participants and communities, and can intensify other risks.
Risk is defined as:
- exposure to danger
- the possibility of something unpleasant or unwelcome happening
- the possibility of harm as a result of the initiative’s actions.
- Threat — anything, anyone or any event that can cause a negative effect
- Vulnerability — a flaw or a weakness that can make the threat a reality, or the likelihood that a threat will happen
- Impact — (in this context) the severity of the negative effect
- Capacity — existing strengths that will allow you to minimise the chances of the threat happening.
The risks vary according to context and objectives, but they may be caused by not speaking to participants about options to remain anonymous, or by not planning for the safe storage of footage, or by sending or receiving digital files.
Your initiative may also cause reputational risk to subjects, or the risk of rejection from a community if goals and expectations are not communicated widely. Conversely, if you’re making your goals, strategies and processes open to everyone, you may be opening yourself and your involved community up to risk too.
Below an inspiring impact story from Indonesia about raising awareness for health conditions on remote islands. Because of her role in a short video Rabiah becomes quite famous, as her story caught the attention of the national media. These events lead to Rabiah being made part of a political campaign without her being aware of it. In the impact story you’ll read how they managed the risk of Rabiah losing her reputation.
Suster Apung(The Floating Nurse)
The Floating Nurse awakened Indonesian audiences from the illusion that access to decent health services are available to all. The video shows the poor health care conditions on Indonesia’s remote islands, as it portrays a heroin’s fight to change this.
Title : Suster Apung (The Floating Nurse)
Production year : 2006
Duration : 15 mins.
Produced by : Arfan Sabran, Suparman Supardi (Eagle Awards Documentary Competition 2006)
Issue/theme : Health services on remote islands
Objective of video : To remind Indonesians that working wholeheartedly will always open the way even in the face of limitations
Impact achieved : The subject of the story becomes a “champion”. Video screened through national broadcast media. A new hospital boat from the Vice-President of Indonesia.
Methodology used : Short documentary
Budget : Approximately USD 20.000,-
Project duration: 1.5 years (story development, production, post production, and distribution)
“I have to take any risk to save my patients on the island.” Rabiah, 2006
In 2004, two years before production, Arfan (director) studied leprosy in the Liukang Tangaya Islands. These islands are located in the middle of the Flores Sea, Indonesia. To access the islands, Arfan and the leprosy research team had to sail for 24 hours using traditional wooden boats. At that time, Rabiah was part of a team tasked with connecting researchers with the community. Rabiah was the head of the Community Health Centre on those remote islands and had been working there for 32 years.
That was the first time Arfan had sailed and realized the imbalance of health services on remote islands in Indonesia. The island community was far from hospital access, there were no doctors, and there was no means of fast transportation if something bad were to happen. Meanwhile, their islands were surrounded by high waves, sometimes reaching five meters or more.
In 2006, the story of Rabiah serving in the remote Liukang Tangaya islands was produced after qualifying as one of the five finalists of the Eagle Awards Documentary Competition (an Indonesian competition for young documentary filmmakers). The documentary was later titled “The Floating Nurse” (Suster Apung) and aired on national television in Indonesia. Rabiah’s straightforwardness, as well as her firm and honest speaking manner, helped earn the film great accolades. The Floating Nurse won three of the five award categories at the 2006 Eagle Awards: Best Film, Best Cinematography, and MetroTV Viewers Favorite.
After winning the 2006 Eagle Awards, the film and its protagonist received great appreciation in Indonesia. The Floating Nurse seemed to awaken the Indonesian people from the illusion of being the “Emerald of the Equator”, by showing how health care conditions on remote islands were poor and largely forgotten. At the same time, The Floating Nurse also showed that there were still people like Rabiah who were willing to work on these remote islands to provide health services and work wholeheartedly.
Rabiah herself also received much appreciation. Rabiah was invited to talk on the KickAndy program (a popular talk show on national television in Indonesia). During this talk show, the Indonesian Vice President at the time, Jusuf Kalla, gifted her a boat. Since then, almost all media covered news about Rabiah and presented her with awards. Rabiah became one of KickAndy’s Heroes and TEMPO magazine also included Rabiah as a Hero of the Present. Besides these two, Rabiah received many other awards.
The Indonesian Health Minister awarded and invited Rabiah and Arfan to hold dialogues on health services in remote islands. Some of the things discussed were the regulation of the authority of doctors and other medical personnel, and that medical personnel like Rabiah who are placed on remote islands should be able to take the necessary medical measures to save even those outside of their authority.
In addition to the award given by the Health Minister, the Women’s Empowerment Minister also named Rabiah a Present-Day Kartini. Some private parties also tried to invite Rabiah and Arfan to discuss how they could help. There were banks that provided some financial assistance for Rabiah, one food company provided baby milk powder to be distributed to the islands, and there were also companies that appointed Rabiah as an icon for devoted and sincere workers.
However, the large amount of public interest in discussing the hero of The Floating Nurse and the issue of health services on remote islands was exploited by politicians who would compete in the 2009 Presidential Election. Rabiah, who had just finished being a guest on KickAndy Off Air at Hasanuddin University in Makassar, suddenly requested permission from Arfan to fly to Bali to shoot a “public service announcement”. No one expected that the production was a political advertisement of one of the politicians who wanted to run as a candidate in the 2009 National Elections. Rabiah thought that the “public service announcement” was a health promotion advertisement like what she would usually see on television. That was why Arfan and Rabiah decided to hold a press conference on August 15, 2008 (article in Indonesian) to assert that Rabiah was not aware of her role in and the purpose of the political advertisement. Rabiah also requested that the advertisement be stopped because she did not want to be associated with political activities at the time.
[Book launch of Suster Apung, Dec 2019, with Arfan and Rabiah standing 3rd and 4th from the right]
More than a decade after the Floating Nurse documentary, several positive changes have happened, in terms of health services, transportation, and communication facilities. However, that does not mean everything has been resolved perfectly.
Filmmaker Arfan recently published his ‘Suster Apung’ novel about his experiences after many years of ups and downs working in remote islands. He is currently also producing the documentary Rabiah and Mimi, which tells the story of Rabiah and her daughter, Mimi. In addition to showing the current condition of health services in remote islands, this film will give insights into the daily lives of a family willing to work on remote islands. Rabiah and Mimi was successfully pitched by Arfan at Colors of Asia 2020, during Tokyo Docs, November 2019.
In high-risk situations, you must develop a coherent risk management plan to minimise dangers to yourself, your team, the communities you work in, and everyone involved in your initiative. You will also need to balance the need for transparency with the need for security.
At the very least, you should ensure you don’t further complicate the issue you are seeking to address with your video initiative.
Understanding and Assessing Your Initiative’s Risk
The first step in Risk Management is understanding the risks of making your initiative. Here are some of the risks you might take when you open up about your initiative too much or not enough:
- Exposing stories and perspectives that are marginalised or hidden may shift power dynamics within communities and societies.
- Working with under-represented communities may cause them to face increased discrimination and prejudice by more dominant groups.
- Capturing stories and struggles may re-traumatise survivors and victims of human rights abuses.
- Working with subjects who should remain anonymous may expose their identity and risk their privacy and security.
It’s important to revisit these risk areas throughout your initiative to keep your assessment current and to better ensure that no harm can come to you and the people involved.
To help you identify and anticipate the risks involved in your film project use the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Tool. After you have filled it out, either alone or together with your team, use it to discuss how you can better look after yourself, your team, your subjects, and the communities you work with.
Impact Story: B’Tselem Camera Project
A story about the positive and negative impacts after a witness video, produced through B’Tselem’s Camera Project, of unlawful military violence by Israeli forces was made public.
Location: Israel, occupied territories
Issue: Human rights, military violence
Aim/purpose of the video: To bring to justice a soldier who murdered a Palestinian activist.
Featured methodologies: Witness Video, Video for Advocacy
Video length: 3 mins.
B’Tselem, founded in 1989, is the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. It uses video documentation to expose human rights violations and the daily reality under Israel’s military occupation.
In 2007, B’Tselem started its Camera Project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which gave legal and technical training to Palestinian volunteers and equipped them with cameras. Over the years, the volunteers’ footage has helped B’Tselem expose the violent nature of Israel’s control and advocate for an end to the occupation.
One of the volunteers, Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, lives in Hebron, a Palestinian city where about 800 Israeli settlers live in the midst of its Palestinian population. This reality creates constant friction between the local population and the Jewish settlers and Israeli security forces.
On March 24, 2016 Abu Shamsiyeh documented an Israeli soldier extrajudicially killing a Palestinian who had carried out a knife attack and was lying incapacitated on the road for 11 minutes after being shot and injured by Israeli soldiers.
After verifying the footage was real and seeking the consent from the volunteer and the victim’s family members, B’Tselem published the video, which immediately created a media storm both in Israel and abroad.
It is extremely rare for Israeli security forces personnel to be indicted for offences committed against Palestinians, but the clear cut video left Israeli authorities with no other option.
The media storm continued for many months while the highly unusual trial took place. The soldier, Elor Azaria, was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment. He was released after serving nine months.
Risks and Impacts
For Abu Shamsiyeh there were consequences as well. He and his family have suffered from violence and harassment, a common fact of life in Hebron’s old city centre. After shooting the viral video, Abu Shamsiyeh received death threats with increasing frequency.
When he tried to file a complaint with the Israeli police officers in Hebron, the officers threatened him with arrest. B’Tselem had to temporarily relocate Abu Shamsiyeh and his family to a different area at times when tensions were especially high.
The discourse in Israel about the trial, where large segments of the population sympathised with the shooter, strengthened existing tendencies in Israeli politics to persecute human rights groups and activists.
B’Tselem has been accused of provocation, with some politicians claiming they are purposely setting up incidents in order to film them.
A draft law was recently introduced, seeking to forbid the documentation of Israeli security forces altogether. Whether the draft law will be formally introduced still remains to be seen, but the proposal is a testament to the effectiveness of video documentation.
International attention on the video contributed to increased exposure of other materials by B’Tselem, which also shed light on the daily violent routine of the occupation. Before March 2016, the Youtube channel of B’Tselem received around 20,000 viewers on a monthly basis. In 2017, this increased to around 500,000 viewers on a monthly basis.
But in the aftermath of Abu Shamsiyeh’s video, B’Tselem has become even more aware of the importance of the environment in which a film is published.
Ehab Tarabieh, B’Tselem’s video department director, explains that if you want to use video to document and publicise human rights offences you “must understand the law of the region you are working in”.
In some cases, the justice system forms the only way a human rights organisation can protect its volunteers or other community members. Therefore connections with lawyers or people that understand the law are vital components within risk management.
This B’Tselem’s case study illustrates that the political and legal environment can greatly affect the impact of a video and that one should be prepared to face these risks. Using video can also cause unexpected changes in this environment, such as the potential new law that forbids filming any Israeli soldier.
The filmmaker and his family have returned home safely after hiding. Abu Shamsiyeh has become an even more active volunteer of B’Tselem and continuous to capture footage of life inside the Occupied Territories.
You have different options in addressing your identified risk, and if other people are sharing the risk, you should involve them in addressing it:
- You can accept the risk because its consequences are minimal.
- You can accept the risk even though it is great, because you decide the benefit to pursuing the issue is more important.
- You can reduce the risk by working on threats, vulnerabilities and capacities.
- You can share the risk by working with other people in the community that are supportive of your initiative.
- You can choose to avoid the risk by stopping your activities or changing your approach to reduce potential threats.
Determining your risk will depend on the context of your initiative. So will the options to address them.
Your tactics will also change over time, so it’s important to consistently assess your risks throughout the duration of your initiative. This impact story from B’Tselem illustrates the difficulties you can expect when making risk assessments in volatile environments.
Risk Management and Informed Consent
Informed consent is a key ethical and legal principle for any activist, citizen journalist and media-maker seeking to create positive social change.
It ensures the safety, security and dignity of participants and interviewees, such as survivors of human rights violations or those suffering from social injustice, so they don’t suffer further abuse or violation or become re-victimised as a result.
It’s necessary to conduct a risk assessment of your Video for Change initiative, so that you’ll be able to clearly inform those who appear in your video (or its credits) of the potential negative consequences of their participation.
What is Informed Consent?
Informed consent is the process of ensuring that a person identified in a video fully understands the purpose and intended use of the recording, as well as any unintended consequences of their participation.
With this information, the person must voluntarily and without external pressure give his or her permission to be identified and for the recording to be used. That decision is not necessarily permanent. Someone who grants consent may revoke the decision due to increased security risks. It is important to respect the fact an individual’s decision around consent may evolve over time.
There are four main elements to informed consent:
Disclosure — The use and purpose of an interview or capturing of image must be fully explained. This helps protect the interviewee’s safety and maintains an honest relationship between interviewer and interviewee.
Voluntariness — The interviewee must voluntarily give their permission for the interview to be used and express whether he or she is willing to be identified by name.
Comprehension — The interviewee, subject or participant must fully comprehend the implications of the interview and the intended distribution, including potential consequences of online distribution. They have the right to revoke their permission for future use of the footage — however, ensure they understand it’s not possible to permanently remove materials from the internet. Provide an example of a worst-case scenario.
Competence — The interviewee must be able to comprehend the likely or possible implications of his or her participation. This is an especially important issue with special populations (e.g., children, people with mental disabilities, people who have suffered significant recent trauma).
Questions to ask when considering informed consent during planning
- Is the participating individual able to give informed consent? Are there barriers to consent such as age or competency?
- If so, has the participating individual given informed consent?
- Has he/she signed a consent form? Or if not using a consent form, are there other records or evidence of consent?
- Will the initiative aims, processes and outcomes change over time? If so, will there be a need to seek consent again?
- Does the individual understand that s/he may be identified?
- Does the individual understand that s/he is giving consent that their image may be exhibited to the public in different domains and forms?
Case Study: When Mary meets Dorothy
Interview between two women from different Kenyan tribes, who are both victims of extreme violence by members from opposing tribes.
Issue: Female survivors from different tribes meet and share their stories of the extreme violence that occurred in Kenya after the 2008 elections.
Aim/purpose of the video: Raise awareness of the unnecessary violence inflicted on women from different tribes in Kenya.
Video length: 3 mins.
In this interview we are confronted with the stories of Mary and Dorothy, two female victims of the extreme violent clashes that broke out between different ethnic groups in Kenya straight after the 2008 elections. Viewers learn about the atrocities that happened and the enormous inner strength of these women. Members of their own respective tribes were responsible for inflicting harm upon the other.
Staging and recording a sensitive interview like these requires a lot of preparation. Mary and Dorothy were briefed and informed beforehand, and both women consciously decided to participate in both the filming and the community screenings of their video afterwards.
This video by Video4Change network member InformAction is a good example of a situation in which obtaining informed consent is vital. It also shows that by obtaining consent from those involved, they can become active participants in a Video for Change initiative. This is exactly why Video for Change initiatives actively try to seek informed consent from their participants.
Security-in-a-Box Everything you need to know about keeping your internet communications secure and safe. This is especially useful for Video for Change initiatives that have a strong technology and component.
Informed Consent Template by Witness. A useful document you can download for free and use.
Ethical Wednesdays: Minimising Risk to Those Filmed An excellent blog-post by Madeleine Bair on how filmmakers can minimise the risks of those filmed.
Safe and Secure: A handbook with issue-checklists containing essential resources on safety and security issues facing documentary filmmakers and where to go to get more information and / or training.
Common Cause focuses on understanding how values and frames can contribute to or work against social change. They have a number of guides and resources to help apply this approach.
Power: A Practical Guide for Facilitating Social Change provides detailed workshop materials to help people analyse power in order to create social change.
Powercube website Learn more about expressions of power
The New Tactics Strategy Toolkit provides useful activities and worksheets to help human rights defenders work more effectively so they can address human rights violations around the world.
Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders by Frontline Defenders provides further information on ways to tackle risk.
Making a New Reality explores the potential, questions, and ethics of immersive and interactive media for social change.
International Documentary Association is a very thorough blog post that gives an introduction and examples on how to make a budget for a documentary film.
Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts connects artists and arts organisations of every discipline with accountants and lawyers who donate their time and expertise to help their clients navigate the complicated world of finance and law. The website offers sample contracts and guidelines that can be used by video-makers.