Women in Film and TV Northern Ireland (WFTV NI) took to the stage at the Belfast Media Festival (BMF) this week with a panel of leading women, all with first hand experience of ‘duty of care’ in the television industry, to debate the critical issue of who’s looking after the people who take part in TV programmes.

WFTV also announced a pioneering new mentoring scheme for Northern Ireland women.  The innovative programme is designed to help those with more than five years’ experience working in TV production take the next step in their career.

Jannine Waddell, Chair of WFTV NI said “Duty of Care has become the most significant story in TV in recent months and as a programme maker it’s a subject very close to my heart. I felt we needed to explore this critical issue in depth and I’m delighted so many leading women from the industry came together for WFTV to highlight the issue this week at BMF.”

The session was chaired by Kelda McCann, MD of leading Northern Ireland television production company Crawford McCann and committee member of WFTV NI.  Kelda McCann said: “Duty of Care has always been on the minds of factual programme producers — our contributors are at the centre of what we do. There is a massive responsibility when someone invites you into their life to tell their story. The changing media landscape and rise of social media means new challenges and we have to adapt as programme makers. It also means Duty of Care is quite rightly something all genres need to be thinking new about. Duty of Care also extends to programme makers – we frequently deal with challenging subjects and this can have mental and emotional consequences.”

The panel comprised:

  • Lauren Bradford, an academic and criminologist who published ‘Hidden Victims’ exploring the experience of families bereaved by homicide as they have gone through the criminal justice system.·         Emma- Rosa Dias, MD of Afro-Mic Productions who has       experience of working in front and behind the camera.
  • Jacky Martens, Assistant Editor of BBC’s flagship News at 10.
  • Alison Millar, a multi-award winning film maker and MD of  Erica Starling Productions.
  • Tracie O’Neill, Executive Producer of Stellify Media.
  • Beejal Patel, BBC Documentaries Commissioner with vast experience in producing ground breaking factual series with school children and pre-schoolers.
  • Liz Tucker, Chair of Women in Film and TV (UK) and a multi-award winning documentary executive producer and director.

Emma-Rosa Dias who started her career as a contestant in Channel 4’s Shipwrecked 20 years ago said: “Duty of care should not be a box ticking exercise, you should treat all contributors the way you would want to be treated yourself. Shipwrecked was a wonderful experience and I went on to TV presenting, but I’m glad it all happened 20 years ago as now due to social media I don’t think it would be the same experience. Happy being an Executive Producer behind the camera now!”

Liz Tucker, Chair of WFTV said: “In the increasing battle for ratings I believe there is now ever greater pressure put on producers to deliver sensational stories. It is important that there is informed consent for all contributors at every stage of the production process.”

“Beejal Patel, BBC Documentaries said: “Detailed planning around care for members of the public taking part in our programmes is always a core part of our commissioning and production process and we have editorial guidelines and advice from the BBC Editorial Policy team to support vulnerable contributors.”

Lauren Bradford has first hand experience of this process as her family were scrutinised by the media following the murder of her mother Lesley Howell. Through Lauren’s academic research into the experience of families bereaved by homicide, she says that the media can be a force for good for victims of crime and calls for a media advocate to represent, protect and advise vulnerable contributors who find themselves in the spotlight.

Lauren said: “The media’s duty to victims of crime is to highlight injustices, challenge power and give a voice to the voiceless. This can play a therapeutic, healing and empowering role for victims of crime. All too often this is overstepped, and interest quickly becomes intrusion, with victims’ experiences being commodified and reproduced simply for entertainment. The traumatic impact this can have on victims of crime is grave and concerning. Many victims of crime want and need a platform via the media. However, where privacy is requested, sometimes pleaded for, there needs to be a clear, ethical and justifiable reason for not honouring the wishes of victims of crime in these instances.”

Alison Millar who has spent her career making hard hitting documentaries said: “Despite all TV industry pressures, the consent and respect of contributors, whose stories we are lucky to share, should always be paramount. Some things are just not meant to go on television. We should always be grateful and respectful at all times to the people who let us into their homes and into their lives to film. I also believe in showing my films to everyone who participates before transmission. We are dealing with people’s lives so they deserve informed consent and that means consent right up to transmission. I also think we need to consider better aftercare for producers who can be extremely affected by the programmes they make.”

Tracie O’Neill said: “It’s about treating people with respect, being open and honest about our expectations of them from the start. With entertainment programmes, contributors can often put on a bright face and their vulnerabilities may not be obvious so good communication is a key part in ensuring we treat them fairly and respectfully.”

The final word went to Lauren Bradford who said: “It’s really important for the media to remember that most victims will have no previous experience with the police or media. They are exposed to the spotlight suddenly and at a time of extreme vulnerability and it can quickly escalate into a ‘free for all’ often with no advice offered to victims on how to deal with this.”

The new WFTV NI mentoring scheme is now accepting applications online at www.wftv.org.uk

Liz Tucker, Chair of WFTV UK said: “For the last decade, WFTV has run an industry leading scheme in London which has set new standards due to its uniquely effective approach to training. WFTV is determined to ensure our organisation serves all the women of the UK, not just those based in South East of England. The new mentoring scheme in Northern Ireland is a pivotal part of this strategy. In the first year, the NI mentoring scheme will be run for six women and the aim is to grow this every year.”

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