Wildlife documentary makers who film animals in their ‘homes’ may breach their right to privacy

April 30, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

Wildlife documentary makers who film animals in their ”homes” are guilty of breaching their right to PRIVACY, a top academic has claimed.

Documentaries such as the BBC’s Springwatch and Nature’s Great Events were slammed for capturing animals’ most intimate secrets on camera without their consent.

Dr Brett Mills of the University of East Anglia (UEA) said broadcasters treat all wildlife as ”fair game” and fail to consider their right to privacy from prying eyes before recording.

Animals – just like humans – have a basic right not to have their most intimate moments such as mating, giving birth and dying broadcast to an audience of millions, he argued.

In his study, published in the media and culture journal Continuum, Dr Mills said seeking out secretive creatures was ”unethical”.

He also compared putting pin-hole cameras in birds’ nests to intrusive Big Brother-style CCTV.

The senior lecturer in the School of Film and Television Studies at UEA said: ”It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a right to privacy.

”Privacy, as it is commonly understood, is a culturally human concept.

”We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they often do engage in forms of behaviour which suggest they’d rather not encounter humans, such as running away or building a burrow.

”The question constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed, they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all.

”There are many activities which animals engage in which are common to wildlife documentary stories but which are rendered extremely private in the human realm.

”Mating, giving birth, and dying are recurring characteristics in nature documentaries, but the human version of these activities remains largely absent from broadcasting.”

Dr Mills, 38, said film makers considered it a technological challenge when confronted by secretive behaviour in animals.

He picked out Nature’s Great Events in his study and called on film makers to assess ”ethical” reasons for filming animals who wish not to be seen before the cameras roll.

The BBC show used state-of-the-art equipment to capture some of the world’s most secretive creatures such as humpback whales, polar bears and cheetahs.

Dr Mills added: ”It is difficult to equate consent but some animals display no consent by their behaviour such as building homes where they cannot be seen.

”Perhaps there is an argument for some species, in some circumstances, not to be filmed. At the moment it seems that such arguments are never put forward.

“Human notions of privacy which rest on ideas of location or activity are ignored in terms of animals.

”It doesn’t matter what an animal does, or where it does it, it will be deemed fair game for the documentary,”

Although Springwatch, presented by Chris Packham and Kate Humble, did not feature in his study Dr Mills believes they raise the same issues.

He said: ”Nests are a private space and to stick cameras inside is a form of CCTV.”

But Piers Warren, 49, founder Filmmakers for Conservation and principle at International School of Wildlife Film makers rubbished Dr Mills’ claims.

He said: ”How can you say whether an animal wants to filmed? No animal will understand the concept.

”The vast majority of animals don’t want to be near humans. So when they don’t know they are being filmed they demonstrate their natural behaviour.”

A spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), also said there was no harm in filming wild animals.

He said: ”Wildlife documentaries can play an important role in increasing people’s awareness and understanding of the many amazing species sharing our planet.

”If the animals aren’t distressed when they’re being filmed then, to use a sporting metaphor, we say, ‘No harm, no foul’.”

Victor Watkins, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)’s wildlife adviser said the concept of privacy was alien to wild animals.

He said: ”Animals live in a natural environment surrounded by a vast number of other animals and environmental factors which affect their behaviour.

”In general, animals do not have any privacy in their natural environment due to these factors.”

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