Sabeen al-Nuaim ( not her real name) was at ease speaking on camera. She smoked a cigarette in between the pauses describing her filming days in Syria.
She had recently recorded a young woman torn by shrapnel hurriedly being placed in a battered car which sped off to a makeshift hospital 20 minutes away.
Sabeen, reminiscing about the event and the horrors of videoing in one of the world’s dangerous spots, questioned her work exposing atrocities that often put her life in danger in Aleppo.
Yet, she said, she was compelled to record because these stories needed telling.
We wrapped the interview in Adana, four hours drive from the Syrian border.
A week later in production, we received an email from Sabeen in broken English explaining she could not be profiled in our documentary. The risk was too great to her and her family’s safety.
In spite of a release form and that she was an eloquent speaker with a clutch of amazing stories to tell which made our documentary, we dropped her contribution.
In an age where discretion seems an unwieldy sentiment against fame-seeking and that privacy or secrecy seems arcane when the fruits could be twitter fame, some codes of conduct should remain.
It’s journalistic ethics, but more so it should be about common decency — understanding that your actions could result in someone’s death.
The rise in social media though threatens this basic action. More recently, a well known British television journalist spoke to a group of out Masters students revealing aspects about his work which could imperil his safety, so we had the student’s adhere to Chatham House rules.
The rule states, in a bid for open discussion, that:
When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.
While links such as The BBC’s Twitter users guide to the law underline the growing concerns in social media, the idea that personal privacy is seen as a thing of the past poses a problem.
Snapchat, instagram — the ability to take a picture of anyone in public does not come without risk.
Many Christmases ago I was filming homeless people receiving a warm meal from a local charity. My camera lingered on a man. Minutes later, while still filming, I heard mumbled to me: ‘Do you like hospital food?’
It took a while for his message to sink in, but what he was saying was he had rights too.
Probity and integrity — hall marks of old fashion journalism have more currency today than ever and with cameras aplenty.
For the sake of a picture or story how many of us would betray the confidentiality of a source, or shrug our shoulders at our interviewee’s concerns?