Camera Down Documentaries When to Term Paper

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It would appear as though the work of a journalist, though, should not be allowed to supersede the duty to help others. A moral duty is in place for that type of activity, even if legal ramifications are not significant.

Those who spend their time behind the camera may see the world in a different way than others. If that is truly the case, these individuals may not be "wired" to put down the camera and help. Without their cameras, they may freeze and render themselves completely unhelpful. Whether this would be the case would have to be studied, but it is entirely possible and some people actually do freeze up and struggle with their emotions and abilities when they are faced with a crisis situation. In that case, these individuals may not actually be able to help even if they put their cameras down. One thing all documentarians should know is the law in the state and municipality where they are filming. If there are laws about failing to render aid to people in distress, those laws must override the filmmaker's desire to keep the camera rolling instead of putting the camera down in an effort to help. As to the research questions that were addressed earlier, the following can be established:

A person who is filming a documentary or a news story and sees something drastic happening in his or her camera view often does not have any legal responsibility to take action. However, there is generally a moral responsibility to consider human life more important than the images that will be collected from filming. At some point, the person should put down the camera or the notepad and help the person who needs assistance, but many fail to do that. Exactly where the line should be drawn is a matter for debate and has to be decided on a situational basis. In many cases there are no real liability issues that have to considered, but it is always wise for a documentarian to check local and state laws in order to understand his or her potential obligations and any legal ramifications.

A person may not try to help because getting the shot is more important, or because he or she is too caught up in the moment. Seeing through the camera lens may make the unfolding events feel like a movie and not as much like real life. He or she would simply strive to record this type of activity in order to have it on record to show to others. Also, some documentarians record events in an effort to sell them and make money from their work. There are some laws in place that address the "failure to act," but they are spotty and vague. Most are not upheld, but it is possible that a documentarian could be sued as a civil matter if he or she did not render aid. Since the purpose of a documentary is to accurately portray events, the documentarian may be compromising the integrity of the film by intervening in dangerous situations, which is something to consider.

Where a person should draw the line as to when someone has a responsibility to act and not to act has to be a personal choice made by each filmmaker. As was seen in the literature review, that can have mental and emotional health consequences for documentarians. As an example, if the documentary were about prostitution, the documentarian would have a moral responsibility to do something if a pimp started assaulting the prostitute, because an assault should not be ignored - but it appears as though most would simply keep filming. Public trust in documentaries and those who make them would not be as high if the documentarians intervened in what they were filming. The intervention would change the outcome.

Recommendations for Further Research

Further research should be conducted into the issue, because what was studied here was a small sample of past literature into the issue. A larger body of literature would be helpful, but literature into the subject is relatively scarce. Additionally, it may be possible to study the documentarians themselves - either through surveys or through spending time with a group of filmmakers - in order to collect data and draw conclusions as to whether the future of documentaries will be changing.


As can be seen from the literature review and discussion, there are serious issues that are faced by documentarians. There are no easy answers to the questions posed about what these photojournalists "should" do when they are faced with filming those who are dealing with the potential loss of life and limb. Overall, documentarians and photojournalists are there to "get the shot." If they render aid, they are changing the outcome and they are also missing out on what they arrived on the scene to do. However, there is a serious concern about the fact that photojournalists sometimes just stand by and film when they could be saving someone's life. Is this acceptable? The jury is still out on that one, because some say yes and some say no. A better question might be whether these photojournalists and documentarians can live with themselves if they do not help someone and that person dies. If this will remain on their conscience, then they certainly should help that person. If they feel no duty to help the person, then perhaps they should not be helping.

While this can become a question of legality, it is more about the moral compass of the person and the concerns he or she may have about whether aid should have been rendered to a person who was in need. Consulting professionals regarding the nature of the laws on rendering assistance would be a good first step for a documentarian, but at the end of the day the person behind the camera must make a decision as to whether he or she is going to put the camera down to help or whether filming the events that are taking place is more important. That is a personal choice that only the documentarian can make, and that can only be made at the time and in the moment. Regardless of what others may feel is right or wrong in a situation, it is ultimately a personal choice.


Cinders. (2008). Kevin Carter: The consequences of photojournalism. FanPop. Retrieved from

Hallowell, Billy. (2012).Should This Photojournalist Have Intervened Sooner to Save the Life of a Dying Snake-Handling Pastor? The Blaze. Retrieved from

Henningham, J. (1996). Australian journalists' professional and ethical values. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 73(1): 206-218.

Rogers, T. (2012). When should journalists help those in need at disaster scenes? Retrieved from

Smolkin, R. (2006). Off the sidelines. American Journalism Review. Retrieved from

The Bridge. (2004). Top Documentary Films. Retrieved from

The Guardian (2012). 'I was gutted that I'd been such a coward': photographers who didn't step in to help. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Ward, S.J.A. (2009). Covering suicide: Do journalists exploit tragedy? School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved from[continue]

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