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The Third Wave, The Fourth Screen, The Fifth Power, And Beyond

Video exposes child-soldier’s identity [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

If you’ve seen the guidelines for this site, you’ll know that there are types of footage that we wouldn’t post, and circumstances surrounding the shooting of particular videos that mean we wouldn’t even link to them. Today’s post is about one of those videos.

I was researching a possible post about child-soldiers, when I found a video on a video-sharing site, said to be an interview with a teenage former child-soldier. In the video, the youth makes a number of allegations against the rebel organisation that he claims abducted him, sexually abused him, and sent him out on military operations – allegations broadly consistent with research conducted in his country by respected international human rights organisations.

But unusually for a video carrying this kind of allegation, the youth involved is identified by name, and in the accompanying text, by location. Human rights organisations (and media) would almost always advise protecting the identity of a minor in such a situation (see pages 16 and 17 in this document, for example) – whether by pixellating or obscuring his/her face, by shooting the video so that their face cannot be seen, e.g from behind or in silhouette, or possibly disguising their voice or re-voicing the audio. The photograph below shows how easy it is to pixellate an image to conceal someone’s identity.

Example of how to pixellate an image to protect someone’s identity

In the case of the video I had found, none of these protocols was followed. I wondered for quite a few days whether to post this video, which I felt brought out many important issues within a conflict where the recruitment of child-soldiers is common. It’s horrifying testimony (and by no means rare), and the youth’s story deserves to be heard – but the video raises a huge number of questions. Therefore I’ve decided against showing you the video itself.

The video is quite short, and in it the youth seems to be giving a prepared statement – there’s no one asking questions for clarification, as there was by contrast in the Alive In Baghdad video a couple of weeks ago. The text accompanying the video states that the army found the boy after he escaped from his abductors, so I have assumed that the army shot the video.

Did the army explain to him clearly and adequately what the video was for, and how it would be used? At no point in the video or in the accompanying text is it made clear whether the boy in question has given his consent to the use of this video online. Was he given a choice of whether to take part, or of when, where and how it would be filmed? He mentions his parents in the video – were they asked for their consent? If we assume that his alleged abduction and subsequent sexual abuse caused him trauma, what support and follow-up was offered to him? How informed can his consent be considered?

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Filed under: Africa, Children, Cyber-Activism, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Humanitarian, Internet, Law, Military, Online Video, Politics, REGION, Technology, War & Conflict, WITNESS