Dealing with emotions and facts

Image courtesy of DVS and released under Creative Commons

Image courtesy of DVS and released under Creative Commons

Note: The following is our answer to the informed consent question posed in our scenarios section. First a recap on the dilemma.

You are attending the aftermath of a fire that has damaged two houses. The residents are trying to gather all they can outside the smouldering premises as fire fighters douse the flames.

Emergency services staff refuse to answer any of your questions saying they are too busy to talk and that you should contact their HQ for the latest updates.

You notice a woman who is clearly traumatised by the incident. She is screaming and rambling. You go over to her and she tells you how she has lost everything, is now homeless and doesn't know what to do. She is clearly confused and not making much sense, but you film her.

As you finish your filming a fire officer and a paramedic urge you not to use the footage saying the woman's child is unaccounted for. They tell you she is too distressed to be interviewed. They also suggest that it's unlikely the child will have survived.

However you already have a dramatic interview - although the woman didn't mention a missing child - and there is a bulletin looming. You are keen to use the material you have. What do you do? Do you:

a) acknowledge the concerns of the emergency services staff and say you will take them into consideration but run the interview anyway.

b) realise the woman was traumatised and respect her grief and confusion by deciding not to use the footage.

c) use the material because you now have a much bigger developing story on your hands and what appeared to be just a house fire where people were concerned about losing their home and possessions could now be a story about a dead child.

d) try to find the woman again in order to clarify whether her child is missing or not and ask her permission to carry out another interview for the bulletin.

e) report that emergency services are searching for a missing child and use the earlier interview with the woman in context, explaining that it was carried out earlier before information that there could have been a loss of life had been released.

This is a difficult one and the appropriate answer might differ from region to region.

You might have gone for option b) on the basis that informed consent had not been obtained, however, this is a fast moving developing story and option e) could apply. But it's likely that you are going to add to the distress of the woman by airing that material if it is later discovered that she has lost her child.

The safest option would be b) even though it means not using some dramatic footage.

If you want help trying to solve this dilemma, please read our training module on the issue.

David BrewerThe author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who founded Media Helping Media, handing the site over to Fojo in early 2018. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast and online. He has spent many years delivering journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide.

This site has been given permission to use and adapt elements of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in these short editorial ethics modules. They have been updated to reflect changing international, regional and cultural variations.

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