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The Ethical Practice In Documentary Films

1263 words - 6 pages

The form of documentary films has been a very powerful platform in engaging people with the real and historical world. Documentary films are one of the most noteworthy techniques for which individuals find out about actual stories and real people. The literature of documentary filmmaking offers four different approaches that researchers have used to study this genre. One approach is related to cultural production that determines and shapes the form of documentary film such as subject depictions, stylistic conventions, and public interpretation of a film. A second approach is related to the societal impact of a film in reframing news coverage and policy debate. A third approach is the ...view middle of the document...

Mertes (2001) claimed that public journalism, which seeks to connect viewers with personal stories, has one thing in common with documentary films: both tell viewers about the subjective evidence of the world. Nichols (1991) indicated that the documentary is “an institutional practice” that has standards and principles that have been created over time by documentarians. Like other professional practices, this practice shifts all time to adapt to societal needs and concerns (Nichols, 1991, p. 13). Maccarone (2010), however, contended that there is no ‘ethical code’ in the media institution that governs the practice of making documentary films, but instead it is the practitioner’s job to achieve internal and external ethics for the film and ultimately for the practice.
Previous research has underscored the filmmaker’s relationship with their subjects and audience. These relationships require that filmmakers maintain ethical responsibilities and do not harm their subjects. Documentarians must also respect the vulnerability of their audiences. Other studies explored the link between documentary ethics and aesthetics. Nash (2011) contended that those who make documentary films need to engage in wide ethical discussions. With the insufficiency of a common ethics code, Sanders (2010) advocated such discussions of the moral issues in documentary filmmaking to enlarge the debate about the ethics of documentary filmmaking. Notably, these discussions in the literature about the ethical problems fail to distinguish between documentary films produced by individuals and those made by broadcasting institutions (Kilborn & Izod, 1997; Mertes, 2001). All appear to share the same level of responsibility to the subjects and the audiences, although broadcasting institutions seem to have already developed standards and norms.
Sanders (2010) claimed that ethics and morals are commonly misinterpreted terms. According to Sanders (2010), “Morals are the accepted norms and values of people, of a community... and ethics are a discipline that reflects on human action to determine people’s decisions to do the right things” (p. 4). In other words, the principles that inform debates and decisions about what is the right thing to do in making documentaries are ethics. While morals have to do with issues that relate to the filmmakers’ responsibilities toward his or her subjects that are based on the filmmakers’ cultural and religious background. Sanders (2010) argued that ethics of filmmaking should concern the practice of documentary filmmaking rather than judging individual filmmaker actions or describing what is the right thing to do in a given situation. On the other side, there is different approach used to define the ethic, “An ethic consists of a decision about what must be done in a given context, an act for or against the truth” (Buthcart, 2006, p. 434). Butchart’s (2006) concept is driven from theoretical notion of ethic rather than ideological one.


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