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 discuss seeking specific consent. Was filming Mohamed exploitative because of the situation he was in? That’s a judgement call.


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. It was certainly an issue in the public interest, as it is a growing concern for asylum seekers and the Canadian government. The video was a way of showing what it really looked like, which is no more exploitative than many of the things journalists do in order to be able to portray what’s going on.


Enkin highlighted that now, with social media, the footage is a legacy for that person. They can be searched and it will follow them. “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.
This raises a few questions: (1) How much does a journalist owe a vulnerable source? (2) Is a journalist responsible for determining harm? (3) How do you balance public interest and minimizing harm?

The Canadian Press (CP) policies say that 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. CP 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” (Canadian Press pp. 36, 2017).

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