Animals need 'right to privacy' from wildlife films

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wildlife photography
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Should documentary makers respect animals' need for privacy

Animals' right to privacy needs to be taken more seriously by wildlife documentary makers, suggests research.

The ethics of the media and privacy should be extended beyond humans to the animal world, suggests Brett Mills at the University of East Anglia.

He says it might be acceptable to film "public events" such as animals hunting - but questions more intrusive recording.

Dr Mills says animals should not be seen as "fair game" for filmmakers.

An academic in the university's film and television department, Dr Mills says "we see it as unethical and wrong to secretly film people - we say it's not allowed".

Ethical questions

But when it comes to animals being recorded in documentaries, such questions are never raised, he says.

"What does it say about our assumptions about animals?" asks Dr Mills.

The research, Television Wildlife: Documentaries and Animals' Right to Privacy, wants to start a debate about whether animals should receive more respect from filmmakers.

Should cameras be shoved down burrows? Should animals be stalked by hidden cameras?

"It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a right to privacy," said Dr Mills.

But he says that animal behaviour shows that they can make a distinction between public and private behaviour.

There are times when they withdraw from "public" areas, he says, and appear to want privacy.

Wildlife or private lives?

For humans, he says, it is assumed that documentary makers would need consent to go into people's private lives, but no such boundary exists for wildlife filmmakers.

"When confronted with such 'secretive' behaviour the response of the wildlife documentary is to read it as a challenge to be overcome with the technologies of television.

"The question constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed: they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all."

The research, published in Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, wants to raise a debate over whether there should be ethical considerations about the filming of animals.

Teaching students about making television documentaries often involves ethical discussions about what is permissible to be recorded, he says - and also examining how people might give up their privacy to become part of a documentary.

But while wildlife documentaries are seen as a "good thing", he wants to ask why there is such little discussion of the rights of their unknowing star performers.

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