Covert Filming

Date: 20.07.2016     Last updated: 21.06.2019 at 15.35
A guide to a genre of programmes which involve investigative journalism, surreptitious and covert filming or recording, creating potential personal security risks.

The risks vary widely and the precautions taken should reflect the risk to that specific production, both during production and broadcasting of the item.

What Can Go Wrong?

  • Immediate personal threats - if discovered during filming or recording, to location team and to others supporting them or otherwise implicated. This might include verbal abuse, physical violence, capture or imprisonment. Also damage to or loss of equipment, personal possessions and vehicles.
  • Long term personal threats - possible reprisal abuse or violence directed towards the programme team, their families, colleagues, or those credited on the programme once it has transmitted.
  • Other long term threats - to the BBC, or any third parties involved, in relation to possible reputational risks or threat of legal action.

Legal/BBC Requirements

  • This Guide should help inform your planning, assessment and arrangements. It won't make you an expert, nor preclude the need for risk assessment. If you require any additional information or clarification, contact your Safety Adviser or High Risk team, as appropriate.
  • For many of these programme types there is a requirement to refer to Editorial Policy for approvals required.

Control Measures

1. Commissioning

  • Keep information about the intended programme secure.
  • Restrict this information to as few people as possible.
  • Consider the security of individuals' personal information, including their identity. Can they be found easily on the internet?
  • Consider the security of all comms i.e. encrypt emails. Further advice on secure communication (and other aspects of covert filming) is available through the High Risk team.
  • Create a threat assessment - obtain all available information from the Police, contributors, press archive material, internet etc.; determine if the target has any connection to criminals or any organisations; consider the likely implications of discovery.
  • Consider short, medium and long term risks - the immediate safety of the personnel on the story, especially if discovered filming/recording; the threat that discovery of the recorded material could cause to the carrier; the threat at transmission if names appear in programme credits; the long term threat to their family or work colleagues; the longer term implications for the BBC, production company, contractors or other members of the press in the country.
  • Approval - Refer to Editorial Guidelines for approval requirements and ensure appropriate level of sign-off.

2. Planning

All staff involved must be informed about the potential safety and security issues which may arise with this genre of programme. You will need to consider the suitability of individuals involved in the project and may need to seek professional selection advice such as personality profiling. The profiling may include individual history, physical & mental health issues, family circumstances, and an ability to work within a team. 

All the issues below should be considered in relation to everyone involved in the programme i.e. the production team and contributors. 

  • Select a suitable and competent team - they should have relevant experience or be under close supervision to obtain the necessary experience. Team members should be vetted if required.
  • Check if extra training is required for any of the team. They should attend the training course dealing with the safety and security issues associated with Investigative Journalism.
  • Is there a need for a deployed personal security agent? (see Engaging Personal Security Agents in Useful Documents)
  • Ensure the safety of others is not compromised i.e. do not carry a personal mobile phone or pictures of family members in wallets etc.
  • Team members should be warned of the potential risks of surveillance, stress and the need for individuals to be vigilant about personal safety.

Trauma:

  • If your assessment indicates that the team or individuals are likely to be involved in traumatic events or situations, make arrangements for Trauma awareness training run by the BBC Academy before the assignment starts. This training can prepare your team for the demands of working in traumatic situations, especially if it is regularly involved in such work. Alternatively consider a trauma awareness briefing session for your production team. More information can be found in the Trauma guide. 

Scenario and Emergency Arrangements:

  • Prepare an emergency plan and a credible and well-rehearsed cover story for the team in the field.
  • Agree the security measures including the support you need close at hand; and rescue arrangements such as personal alarms connected to a base station, a routine call system or direct observation.
  • Determine emergency signals to alert other team members.
  • Agree potential escape routes, keep them available and under observation.
  • Consider how to avoid being followed and/or plan alternative routes.

For locations we are in control of: 

  • Minimise items in the area that could be used as a weapon i.e. remove sharp knives from kitchens.
  • Consider listening devices for the support team and additional support close at hand e.g. in neighbouring property or vehicle parked nearby.

For locations we are not in control of:

  • Research whether there is a threat from other people at the premises who are not the subject of the programme - for complex tasks / locations, a detailed and covert recce should be carried out.
  • If there is a threat of violence, do not go alone.
  • Establish how the team will communicate.

Recorded Material:

  • Determine how to get the recorded material to the unit base or the UK, as required, in a way that will not put those in the field at risk.
  • Consider how to ensure that the programme material remains protected during gathering and post production. i.e. have the resource facilities been vetted for security.

3. The Filming

Equipment:

  • Ensure hidden covert cameras are compatible with dress and environment.
  • Ensure all communication systems are tested on location for suitability and reliability.
  • Have the correct documentation for any equipment e.g. licenses for Satellite Phones if required.
  • Ensure that operatives have rehearsed and tested how they are going to set up, start and finish filming on the equipment. If necessary arrange familiarisation training from the suppliers of the equipment

Avoiding Suspicion: 

Where possible use local knowledge so that you can use the right language, phrases and behaviours. The team should aim not to draw attention to themselves, for example:

  • Dress in accordance with the environment in which you are filming or recording, be inconspicuous and street wise.
  • Drive carefully, park legally, use vehicles without identifiable markings and do not leave items in vehicles that could give away your identity.
  • Vary routes and times when travelling to work, be aware of people in parked cars or loitering etc.
  • Avoid being in possession of recorded, precise or background material which could increase the risks of discovery or be used as incrimination evidence.
  • Be cautious - if there is any suggestion that you are being noticed / watched, assume that you are, abort the operation and leave the area. 

Discovery: 

  • If suspicion is raised, remain calm, avoid attracting attention to yourself and withdraw at the earliest, safest opportunity.
  • If discovered, do not try to bluff your way through, have a well-rehearsed response with BBC office contact details (usually an editor or similar) to escalate any concerns to and activate the emergency plan.
  • If you think you are being followed when driving, drive toward support e.g. police. Whilst driving do not get too close to the vehicle in front. Allow enough room to sweep around the outside of the vehicle if needed.

4. When Filming finishes

  • Arrange a de-briefing session for the team, record any critical points and breaches of security experienced for lessons learned for future projects.
  • Inform Corporate Security and High Risk of any unforeseen issues that may impact on the future security of any of the team members.
  • Discuss solutions to any reservations the team may have about their future safety and security.
  • Monitor colleagues for signs that indicate that they might have been affected by a traumatic event.
  • Individuals should talk to their manager at the earliest opportunity if they are experiencing problems after a traumatic event or have concerns. They can also use the BBC’s confidential counselling service and their managers can make referrals to Occupational Health if required.

5. When the Programme Transmits

  • Continued protection of individuals and data may be required for a length of time following transmission.

Division Specific Issues

  • No known division specific issues.

FAQs/Did You Know?

  • A checklist / aide memoir for covert filming is available from the Useful Documents section
  • If you have been affected by witnessing violence, conflict or tragedy, the BBC’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is available 24 hours a day.
  • It’s free, confidential and independent and is available to help, wherever you are based. When you contact the EAP, the only information required from you is that you work for the BBC. See the related link for more information.

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About this site

This site describes what the BBC does in relation to managing its health, safety and security risks and is intended for those who work directly for the BBC.

It is not intended to provide instruction or guidance on how third parties should manage their risks. The BBC cannot be held liable for how this information is interpreted or used by third parties, nor provide any assurance that adopting it would provide any measure of legal compliance. More information.


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