Reporting and Portrayal of Tribal Peoples
Guidance in Full
In this article
Last updated: September 2012
As with all contributors, we should normally obtain consent from tribal people who we intend to film, agreeing any limitations and abiding by them.
Since tribal people may have little or no understanding of the television process or the consequences of appearing in the media, we should take care to ensure they understand the nature of their contribution, how it will be used, any relevant context and the potential impact of participation. Consideration should be given to whether or not it is appropriate to provide a viewing of the programme, or elements of the programme (See Editorial Policy Guidance: Access Agreements, and Editorial Policy Guidance: Informed Consent). If a community has indicated either verbally or by other actions that they wish to be left undisturbed, their wishes normally should be respected.
If discussions take place using intermediaries, we should be confident they are appropriate representatives, acting in the interests of the tribal people.
Even when we have secured consent, we should give due consideration ourselves to the possible consequences of the contribution. It may be necessary to carry out further research and take expert advice both before and after filming. For example, are the tribal people concerned able to speak freely, without fear of reprisals from governments or others, and do we need to take any steps to preserve anonymity?
Withdrawal of Consent
The Editorial Guidelines say that, generally, no one who has given properly informed consent prior to filming has the right to withdraw that consent once the filming has taken place. However, we should listen carefully to any reasonable objections. This is particularly important when filming tribal peoples, where an inappropriate contribution or insensitive portrayal may have the potential to threaten wellbeing, undermine lifestyle, lead to a violation of human rights, or other abuses. When considering a request to withdraw consent, decisions should be based on ethical considerations rather than solely on the investment made in the programme.
In reporting or portraying events or situations concerning indigenous tribes, we should be conscious of our own preconceptions, avoid stereotyping, and be aware of the cultural norms and experiences of tribal peoples.
We should take care over the use of terms that have the potential to be misleading or discriminatory, such as ‘primitive’, ‘backward’, ‘savage’ or ‘stone-age’. Care is also needed to avoid confusing a people that are not industrialised with one that is not part of the modern world or 21st century.
When we capture behaviour which is unusual for the tribal peoples, it may be necessary to place it in the context of more representative behaviour or other daily life to avoid a misleading portrayal of the tribe. Remember that the audience may have little or no previous knowledge of the tribe in question and their everyday practices.
The Editorial Guidelines say that “we must not knowingly and materially mislead our audiences when filming our content”. When filming indigenous tribes, we may potentially mislead by encouraging the tribes to appear more traditional when they would not normally do so, for example by wearing traditional dress, hiding or avoiding filming objects from industrialised societies, or re-enacting rituals that are no longer or only rarely practised. Any such interventions by programme makers should be properly explained to the audience.
We should ensure that translations are a fair representation of what has been said and have not been manipulated, particularly when filming in areas which are under strict government or outside controls.
Expert advice should be taken, including from the BBC High Risk Team, before setting out to film tribal peoples. In addition to the safety of the production team, we should remember that contact with outsiders has the potential to spread infectious diseases amongst tribal peoples to which they have not developed any immunity
For further advice and discussion, contact Editorial Policy