BBC Media Action uses the power of media and communication to help reduce poverty, improve health and support people to understand their rights. In the course of its work, the charity offers a voice to people who may be confronting complex challenges arising from extreme poverty, violence, including gender based violence, illness, old age, mental health problems or other disabilities. BBC Media Action enables them to communicate their experience to a wide audience, within the framework of the BBC’s editorial values and guidelines.
In working with vulnerable people and featuring them in its content, BBC Media Action has a responsibility to protect them from harm caused by the impact of its activities.
BBC Media Action has a child protection policy and code of conduct for working with children.
Vulnerable contributors may include:
Victims of gender-based violence, such as rape or sexual assault
People with very limited education
People with learning difficulties
Victims of manmade or natural disasters
Contributors at risk
If at any time you become concerned that a vulnerable contributor is at risk of harm, you should contact your senior manager immediately.
BBC Media Action staff should not intervene to rescue a contributor directly themselves – you are not trained to do so and could put yourself in danger.
The senior manager should talk to the Country Director as a matter of urgency and to the relevant Child Protection Champion. (The Child Protection Champions also consider issues concerning vulnerable adults)
The Country Director and Child Protection Champion should normally contact a relevant reliable organisation to seek advice, explaining to the organisation that BBC Media Action cannot intervene personally with an individual.
To the vulnerable contributor themselves, you should also make clear that you cannot intervene personally in their situation but that BBC Media Action will contact someone who may be able to help. Do not promise to keep what they have told you a secret. If they are insistent that you do not tell anyone, you must speak to your country director.
Examples of risk or harm could be where life is in danger, or a contributor needs immediate medical treatment, or if a vulnerable contributor communicates in some way that they are a victim of sexual or other physical abuse.
An incident report should be completed.
Working with vulnerable contributors in a responsible way requires a lot of resource, time, effort and energy. It needs thorough research and planning. Do not rush in without careful planning – advice and support is available.
You must not go ahead if you cannot tell the story /carry out the research without causing harm to the vulnerable contributor by the impact of the BBC Media Action activity. You must also ensure that BBC Media Action staff are safe. There are times when the best course of action is not to go forward with the proposal.
Any proposal to work with a vulnerable contributor must be referred in advance to the relevant editorial lead, the Country Director, the Regional Director and to the Editorial Development team. Editorial Policy may also be consulted.
Assessing whether to go ahead:
Duty of care to contributors – assessing the suitability of a vulnerable contributor
BBC Media Action has a duty of care to any contributor that it works with. Even when a person gives informed consent to contribute, we should consider whether it is in the best interests of that person to take part. In some cases you should decide not to work with an individual.
The safety of the vulnerable person should be considered. Our work with a contributor should not put their life in danger or put them at risk of additional violence. For example, think about whether there is a risk that the person could be harmed or murdered by someone in their community after revealing their problems to BBC Media Action.
The individual’s health and emotional and physical welfare should also be considered. We should avoid the person suffering unjustifiable additional distress from recounting what has happened to them or from being involved with BBC Media Action in any way. Think also about the impact on them after the event and whether they could suffer additional long term trauma. A vulnerable person may have specific and individual needs, according to their condition or disability at the time.
It can be helpful to consult with reliable organisations, such as health services, NGOs or other agencies, working in country and with an area of expertise relating to the contributor, in order to make a judgement about the risks to an individual if you involved them in your output.
As with any external relationship, when working with an outside body such as an NGO it is important that you check that the organisation is appropriate in itself and that it is appropriate in relation to the project itself.
Due diligence on the organisation must be carried out. Due diligence would include, for example, fully understanding the organisation’s objectives and stated aims, who finances the organisation and whether the organisation has been involved in any controversy which could have a material negative effect on the BBC’s reputation. For example, find out if there has been a financial scandal or negative revelations about the way they work in the field.
You should avoid conflicts of interest. Is there anything which could compromise the BBC’s impartiality, editorial integrity or independence? For example, it would not be appropriate to be involved with an organisation that campaigns using direct action with violence.
You should find out whether the vulnerable person is considered to be medically fit and psychologically robust enough to take part with BBC Media Action. Where at all possible this assessment should be carried out by a professional who knows what to look for. This professional should normally be independent of BBC Media Action so that they can impartially advise both BBC Media Action and the individual about the impact – if any – of taking part on their personal welfare and condition. A relevant reliable local agency may be able to help provide a professional, such as someone with psychiatric training. However, you need to check that this person is suitable and has appropriate qualifications.
Think about whether there are personal events or behaviours which it might not be in the vulnerable person’s interest to reveal to a wider public.
You should also consider the age of the contributor when assessing suitability. Are they a child? Do they have someone to look after their best interests and give informed consent on their behalf?
Remember the best course of action may be not to go ahead with a particular contributor.
Assessing risks to BBC Media Action staff
You should think about any risks posed to BBC Media Action staff. BBC Media Action High Risk Team can give advice.
It may also be useful to talk to reliable organisations working in country to get an understanding of what risks there may be to staff.
If you have any doubts about your own safety you must refer to your Country Director. Country Directors are responsible for the safety of their staff.
If you are affected by witnessing violence, conflict or tragedy the BBC’s Counselling service is available twenty four hours a day. It’s free, confidential and independent and available to help, wherever you are based. (See Contacts at the end of this note.)
BBC News has produced a website for staff on Trauma Awareness, Training and Support and a Trauma Awareness and Support Guide. (See Contacts at the end of this note for more details)
Risk assessments should take account of a contributor’s vulnerability.
Vulnerable contributors need all the information given to contributors generally as part of the consent procedure. The Editorial Guidelines set out what information we should provide to contributors to enable them to give informed consent.
Because of the sensitive nature of much of BBC Media Action’s work, BBC Media Action requires its staff to obtain informed “parental consent” for any contributor under the age of eighteen in addition to the informed consent of the child or young person themselves.
“Parental consent” means the informed consent of a parent, legal guardian, or other person aged eighteen or over who is acting in the role of a parent, such as a Head Teacher.
If you are unsure of the age of a contributor, you should take a cautious approach. If you think they may be under eighteen you should treat them as such and seek parental consent as appropriate.
There should be a record that a person, whether adult or child, has given informed consent - BBC Media Action has consent forms and there is training available on seeking informed consent.
(Contact the BBC Media Action Editorial Development Team for further detail)
In addition, with a vulnerable contributor:
Consider if the person has the capacity to give properly informed consent. The vulnerability may mean that they are unable to make a judgement, either through trauma, illness or lack of understanding.
Information should be given in a way that can be understood by the vulnerable person. It is sometimes helpful to ask the person to say back to you what he/she understands his/her participation would involve, so you can check that they have understood.
Sometimes the information may best be given by an independent expert, or with the help of such an expert, in the presence of BBC Media Action.
Make sure they do not feel pressurised to agree – let them know it is okay to say no. They may feel obliged to agree to what is asked of them by someone they think is a figure of authority, such as BBC Media Action staff. They may think that by taking part BBC Media Action will solve their problem or “rescue them” from their situation.
It should be made clear that if they are undergoing treatment of any kind this will not be affected whether they say yes or no.
Engage professional expert opinion, where appropriate.
In addition to reliable organisations with relevant expertise, there may be medical staff working with the person who can give advice on whether the person has capacity to give informed consent. You should bear in mind, however, that an organisation may downplay the consequences to an individual in wanting an overall issue to be aired by BBC Media Action.
Discuss potential consequences in detail, keeping a note of conversations at the time.
It is very important to make clear to the person what risks there may be to them from taking part. It is also important to discuss how much information the person is willing to give about themselves. Even if they offer to give their full name and location, we should make them anonymous if this will give appropriate protection from risks that they may face. (See Anonymity later on)
If appropriate, consider including family or friends in the negotiations.
Manage expectations. Be absolutely clear that BBC Media Action is a media charity which conducts research and broadcasts content. It cannot intervene personally in an individual’s situation.
Make sure the person is aware where any content will be shown.
A clear description of a programme’s aims and content must be given. Bear in mind that if you work with a vulnerable person this may need to be repeated at subsequent meetings, and the contributor should be given the opportunity to ask questions. The same applies to any responsible adults and intermediaries working with them, such as parents, NGOs, medical advisors etc.
We do not normally rely on third parties to gain consent from an adult but it is sometimes sensible to approach a vulnerable contributor via a third party in the first instance, such as through an NGO working with them.
Vulnerable adults may not always be in a position to give informed consent; for example, people with learning difficulties, significant dementia or who are terminally ill.
We should consider whether people who have experienced recent trauma or who are very recently bereaved have the capacity to give informed consent.
In cases where a vulnerable person may not be in a position to give informed consent and that includes children, in addition to the consent of the individual, someone over eighteen with primary responsibility for their care should normally give consent on their behalf, unless it is editorially justified to proceed without it.
Capacity and consent
Questions about capacity and consent are about whether the individual understands the nature of the question being asked and the implications of the decision that is to be made. People are unable to make an informed decision for themselves if they are unable to understand the information relevant to the decision, retain that information, weigh that information as part of the decision-making process and communicate their decision effectively. A person’s capacity (or lack of it) refers to their capacity to make a particular decision at the time it needs to be made.
Vulnerable people with the capacity to give informed consent
Consent for a broadcast/publication of content or research can only be confirmed when it is clear that the vulnerable person has the capacity to give informed consent on the broadcast or research.
It may sometimes be appropriate to give a vulnerable contributor the opportunity to view or listen to their story in a programme so that they may understand how it is being told and can discuss any concerns before broadcast/publication. If their concerns cannot be resolved satisfactorily, Editorial Policy may be consulted.
In exceptional circumstances when programme-making (for instance, when recording with people in a politically unstable area or where someone is suffering from a serious mental illness, when their circumstances or condition may change dramatically during the course of recording), it may be useful to think of consent as a two stage process – recording and transmission.
It is important to maintain a dialogue with contributors, their legal guardians and their carers throughout the period of research/recording and editing in order to consider their interests. All footage/audio and personal information should be kept securely beforebroadcast or publication. It may be appropriate, at a later stage, to destroy footage/audio and information that is considered unsuitable for broadcast/research publication.
With a long-running project, if the contributor is literate, it may be useful to provide a letter which explains the purpose of the film, which may be referred to by the vulnerable person, their carer or family members later. On occasion, it may be appropriate to ask them to sign to say they have received this letter. Friends and/or relatives may also be given written information about the project. They may be asked if they would like to participate in the project, but should be under no obligation to do so and should not normally be recorded without their consent.
Vulnerable people who lack the capacity to give informed consent
There must be an over-riding public interest and editorial justification for BBC Media Action to work with a vulnerable contributor who has not given informed consent because they lack the capacity to do so.
When contributors are unable to give informed consent or their condition is unstable and subject to sudden deterioration, with the possibility that they may become incapable of giving informed consent, we have an ongoing duty together with those responsible for their care to consider the impact of broadcast/publication or any research activities on the individual.
The impact of research or recording and broadcast/publication
You should continue to assess the safety and welfare of the vulnerable person during the project. There may be new issues which come to light during research/recording which might put the vulnerable person at risk.
A final judgment on whether to broadcast/ make public any or some of the content must be taken after working with the individual. Remember the best option may be not to broadcast/publish the content.
You should assess what support the vulnerable contributor has in place and what support is available going forward.
You should think about how to tell the story in a way that is not detrimental to the vulnerable person, either at the time, or afterwards.
Revealing aspects of a vulnerable person’s personality may expose them to malicious gossip locally or public scrutiny of their character and behaviour in the media or on the internet. Such contributors could become more vulnerable.
Working with vulnerable contributors
The primary consideration should be the vulnerable person’s welfare during research/recording, transmission and afterwards.
Research and production staff may sometimes require appropriate training in order to deal sensitively and practically with the challenges that arise when working with vulnerable contributors. Production should be tailored to suit the likely needs of vulnerable contributors.
Some disabilities and types of mental illness affect the way people think and feel and their reactions may be unpredictable to those around them. Some vulnerable contributors may display certain behaviours which others find disconcerting. Staff will need to understand and manage their own responses in relation to these unusual behaviours and should take advice where necessary from those who are familiar with the contributor and the nature of their condition.
BBC Media Action has a duty of care to ensure vulnerable contributors have sufficient support throughout research and recording and around the time of broadcast/publication. You should find out if they already have support in place and, where necessary, liaise with these people during research/recording and particularly when the programme is broadcast/published. If they do not have support in place, think about whether a relevant reliable local agency could provide support for them going forward and if appropriate put them in touch with each other.
It is advisable to stay in close contact with contributors, their carers and their families in order to monitor their situation and offer support or help where necessary; however, you also need to be clear about the limits of any assistance you can offer and the time frame within which you can offer it. When a film or radio programme has been edited it may be useful to show it to contributors, as well as to the people who support or take care of them, so that they have the opportunity to absorb its impact, discuss any concerns and prepare themselves for broadcast.
BBC Media Action technicians and crew should be briefed on how to work sensitively with the vulnerable contributor. In some circumstances it may be less stressful to the individual to have a crew who are all one gender, for example in some circumstances when interviewing victims of gender based violence.
It is good practice to document how the vulnerable contributor is treated on a project as evidence that their safety and welfare has been appropriately taken into account. For example, you can keep records of schedules and briefing letters, concerns raised and addressed and procedures put in place.
Dealing with stressful or conflict situations
Research and recording will, in most cases, be a new experience for vulnerable contributors and there may be risks to their welfare arising from it. These can be managed by:
taking advice from those with specialist knowledge of their condition- for example, health services or relevant organisations such as NGOs in country
having a clear understanding of how to minimise the chance of harm or distress –seek advice from experts
having strategies in place should a stressful situation occur
Ahead of research or recording, it can be advisable to discuss with the experts or those responsible for their care possible scenarios which could unfold during research or production, particularly those in which the welfare of the contributor may be compromised
If it is clear that the presence of the crew is causing distress to a vulnerable contributor, the activity or recording should normally be halted. You should take advice from and work closely with carers who are likely to be able to anticipate difficulties before they happen.
If a vulnerable contributor indicates (by any means) that they do not wish to participate, or if they become distressed, such communication should normally be respected, and no pressure should be brought to bear on them or their carers to continue.
If a particularly stressful situation develops during an important recording sequence or research activity, for example if a vulnerable person with mental health problems has to be restrained, you should record/interview sensitively and be guided by any relevant professionals. Options include recording from a distance, focusing on the staff involved rather than the contributor (if at an institution for example), recording in a way that does not identify the person or, with a film, recording only the audio.
If a vulnerable contributor indicates (by any means) that they do not wish to participate, or if they become distressed, such communication should normally be respected, and no pressure should be brought to bear on them or their carers to continue.
Privacy and security
BBC Media Action should pay particular attention to the expectations of privacy of people who are vulnerable. In featuring them as individuals you will be putting personal information about their condition into the public domain. You must take care to point out to potential contributors that their condition will become known to a wide audience including family, friends, work colleagues and managers, and you must ensure that they are happy to proceed on that basis.
In some circumstances it may be appropriate to have measures in place to protect information concerning vulnerable contributors, their carers, friends or relations which could reveal the vulnerable person’s identity or location. On occasion, it may be necessary to ensure that the precise whereabouts of contributors is kept confidential throughout production and their location is not revealed in any recorded material.
You must never reveal the identity of a victim of any sexual offence without their explicit consent which should be recorded in writing. Disclosing the identity of a victim of a sexual offence without their consent is a criminal offencein the UK.
In addition you must avoid identifying someone indirectly, or by jigsaw. This could happen if a number of factors such as age, physical appearance, location or occupation, when combined, could lead to identity of the victim being known e.g. thirty year old teacher from a named school.
If there is any doubt as to whether a victim of a sexual offence understands what the consequences might be to them if their identity is revealed and/or if you are concerned that negative consequences will happen to them if their identity is revealed, you should not reveal their identity. Advice can be sought from Programme Legal Advice and Editorial Policy.
All personal information about contributors, for example in documents, such as consent forms must be kept safely and securely. Contributor consent forms are stored in the UK and are subject to the UK’s 1998 Data Protection Act. So regardless of which country you are working in, this legislation will apply to you, in addition to relevant legislation where you are based.
It may be appropriate to grant a contributor anonymity to protect them from harm. We must agree with them the extent of anonymity we will provide. It may be sufficient to ensure that the contributor is not readily recognisable to the general public, or it may be necessary to render them unidentifiable even to close friends and family, in order to keep them safe.
If they should be kept anonymous from friends and family, you may need to disguise distinctive mannerisms and clothes and edit out figures of speech that would make them identifiable to people close to them. If you need to disguise their voice, another person will need to be used to voice their contribution.
Aftercare is important. If a vulnerable person’s contribution has evolved during post-production, it may be advisable to let them know before transmission.
Depending on the nature of the content and the person’s involvement with it, it may be appropriate for a member of the BBC Media Action team, preferably the main contact, to keep in touch with the contributor and their family to monitor any specific after-effects that might have resulted from the person’s participation. However, you should consider the consequences of continuing a relationship or communication beyond the recording or event. A vulnerable person may seek you out for further, ongoing, support which could place you in a difficult position. In some cases, providing access to sources of professional help or support may be advisable if it is available.
For broadcast output, there may be some very sensitive content where it could be appropriate for BBC Media Action to limit the period of time that content should be repeated for. BBC Media Action may need to tighten any licence given to other parties or limit who the content goes to.
However, even with strict provisions with other parties in any agreement, there may still be limited control over future use. The contributor and their families should be made aware that third party websites may reproduce the content globally without our knowledge or consent, so no guarantee can be given that a contribution will not be seen in particular countries.
BBC Counselling ServiceContact Number: For UK based staff – 0800 042 0140 / for country office based staff -+44(0)20 8987 6550