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Of cameramen and invasion of privacy

By Grace Mbula | December 15th 2015

I have always believed that every news or TV clip making the cut to be aired has been judiciously vetted and judged fit for the listening and viewing audience. Not only must it be newsworthy, it should also inform, educate and entertain the consumer.

That means it should be worth the listeners’ and viewers’ time. To meet these demands takes not only skill, but experience and journalistic maturity. Anything less than this short-changes the audience, takes away from, and brings disrepute to the profession of journalism.

Needless to say, some of our camera crew have not done viewers proud. While I applaud the level of professionalism in our print and broadcast media personnel, some cameramen have become the proverbial ‘little foxes that spoil the vine’. What I am about to say will resonate with many readers.

I have personally lost count of how many times the lens would be zoomed in on something that clearly caught the cameraman’s fancy; or an image the cameraman wanted to draw the viewing audience’s attention to. On occasion for example, I have found myself deeply immersed in following some interesting discourse on TV when I’m suddenly diverted to an image the cameraman thinks deserves the attention of the viewership! What makes matters worse is that often-times, the image being flashed before the audience, and that, during an interview session, would sometimes be obscene or just plain inappropriate.

Unbeknownst to the interviewer or interviewee, the sneaky cameraman would be zooming in on, say, a lady’s crossed legs or cleavage, a tag on a shoe or garment, an unbuttoned blouse or shirt, or a guy’s kinked tie - the list can get even more bizarre if you get my point.

Other times audiences will be treated to extremely intrusive close-ups of guests’ mouths, lips, ears and even more embarrassing physical details. This is where the cameraman gets to set the tone to start his own narrative by disengaging the audience from the subject of discussion.

As expected, from this point on, the audience will start focusing on what the cameraman zoomed in on despite it having nothing to do with the topic of discussion. Some will go even a step further and capture intrinsically and extrinsically suggestive images, all under the guise of practising journalism. This smacks of downright un-profesionalism. Is this the very best we can do, really? I believe we can do better.

So, perhaps, we should ask a sober question: What is the camera person saying by flashing these images during an on-air clip? Do they realise such images in effect take away rather than add value to the TV clip? It is as if the cameraman was saying to the viewer, “Okay, I know what you are watching may be informative, educative and entertaining but aren’t you missing... blah, blah...blah?” So is the cameraman hijacking the show or do they think what they are focusing on is more important than the theme of the show? Do they realise that by flashing this image they are redirecting the viewer to focus on that rather than the subject of the clip?

Clearly the cameraman is telling the viewership to pay attention to what seems to fascinate the wielder and to ignore the subject matter of the TV clip. In my view, this is not only invasion of personal space and privacy, but is also inexcusable unprofessionalism. It is time to call the bluff.

If the audience notices other details of the guest without being aided by the camera crew, there is no problem. However, if such attention is being redirected there by the cameraman, now that’s a huge problem. It has taken me long to highlight this because I hoped it would change over time but it has only gotten worse and has become a trend during interviews.

I suggest that mini briefing sessions be conducted before the cameras start rolling and that media houses consider retraining their camera crews on these ethical issues. In the era of people defending their personal space and privacy, someone needs to consider this: What would happen if someone felt ‘victimised’ by these intrusions into privacy and filed a lawsuit?

In conclusion, I suggest that cameramen work with interviewers on how to best engage and focus audiences on the subject being discussed. This, certainly fellow professional colleagues, is not the time to get that sneaky spooky shot. When all is said and done, we have to be careful to avoid unwittingly invading personal space and privacy. I am sure we can all do better.

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