Fairfax Media Network

Weather News

Filming an emergency on your phone or camera? Know your rights before you press record

Hailey Renault, Tuesday December 19, 2017 - 17:48 EDT
ABC licensed image
If you're in public, you can film whatever you want. - ABC licensed

Activating your smartphone's camera in an emergency is fast becoming as instinctive as dialling triple-0.

The technology is easy to use, at your fingertips and connects you to social media sites eager to share your footage with the world.

So, what do you need to know if you decide to film or photograph an emergency?

And can you be held accountable for documenting it instead of offering assistance?

No duty to rescue

Under Australian law, you have no duty to help a stranger involved in an emergency or accident.

Michael Eburn, an associate law professor at ANU and emergency law blogger, said this meant if you decided not to rush in to help you were not at fault.

"That changes if you have some relationship with them or caused the accident or it's someone who you have responsibility for," he said.

"But if you just see an event happening and have no other contact with it, you're under no obligation to go and assist."



As for switching on your camera and capturing what you see, the rule is clear — you can film anything you like in a public place.

"People should be jumping in to help instead of filming, but, from a legal point of view, what the law says is there's no property in a spectacle," Dr Eburn said.

"If something is happening in a public space, and you're not going on a private property or anything, you can film it."



Can filming ever get you in trouble?

There are a few situations when your behaviour around the scene of an emergency could get you in trouble with the law.

Dr Eburn said by hindering emergency service workers you could get arrested, as would crossing police boundaries to get a closer look.

"Police, and all the emergency services to a lesser degree, can set up boundaries to define the area in which they're operating and they can restrict the right of people to come in or require them to leave," he said.

"If you're on the other side of the boundary, you can film what you can see."



If you're ever told by an emergency service worker to stop filming, and you haven't broken any of those rules, the law is on your side.

Dr Eburn said the at the 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras was a perfect example of this.

In the footage police can be heard repeatedly telling bystanders to stop filming, even though they were within their rights to document the incident.

"The emergency service people who I talk to seem to think, 'They're not allowed to do that and we've got the right to stop them', and they don't; people can film whatever they see," Dr Eburn said.

The ethics of filming an emergency

Griffith University senior research fellow and moral ethicist Hugh Breakey said people often didn't have time to question the ethics of their actions in an emergency.

He said casting yourself as the documenter could come with risks during and after an emergency.

"The fact that we're all holding cameras, and the fact that we're used to recording interesting stuff that happens in our lives, can mean that we don't actually think through this as a decision at all. It's just what we do."

Dr Breakey recommends asking yourself three things before you press record:
Are you failing to do something else?
Is filming the right thing to do?
Is it moral to share the footage (or photographs)?

He said the first question was particularly important.

"If your first instinct is to record, is that getting in the way of something else that needs to be done?"

Calling triple-0 as soon as you see an emergency unfolding may seem like a no-brainer, but if you're not the first person on the scene you could be influenced by something called the bystander effect.

"If you're going to have disaster strike you, you're almost always better off having it strike you if there's only one person who can potentially intervene," Dr Breakey said.

"If there's five [people] they may all wind up making collective decisions that ... someone else has probably already done things or alerted the authorities.

"Simply being the third person that calls the authorities for help is actually a helpful thing."



Legal and ethics experts can agree that documenting an accident or daring rescue can be helpful, especially if the footage aids an inquest or investigation.

But Dr Breakey warned it could put you in an awkward position if things went wrong.

"We know social media is not necessarily kind to people and the views of readers and viewers can shift very quickly," he said.

"You wouldn't want to put yourself in the position of the bad guy in this story because maybe there was something you could have been doing that you weren't doing because you were busy filming.

"Or even just in general, that you were treating what was going on as a spectacle ... when in actual fact it was a massive, scary, life-changing, high-stakes, high-stress activity that was going on for everybody else who was actually doing something."

Taking a moment to consider whether the people you're filming might consent (whether you need it or not) is worth considering too.

Video of a council worker rescuing a woman from floodwaters in Brisbane went viral after it was sent out to media organisations last month.



The rescue was a success, but Dr Breakey said it would be worth considering whether people who go to the aid of others could be affected by the presence of cameras.

"If they got half way through and realised, 'This is way more dangerous than I thought it was and I don't actually think I should be taking this risk', do we actually want someone to be videoed while they're making that decision?"

What do the authorities need you to do?

Brisbane SES controller Rick Murdoch said the top priority for people who found themselves at the scene of an accident or emergency should be calling for help.

"We would encourage members of the public to use their phone first to dial for help instead of filming an event."

He said the SES and other authorities did not pay too much attention to bystanders intent on filming, rather they were "focused on the task at hand".

In the midst of the summer storm season, he also encouraged people to consider their safety before trying to capture footage on their phones.

"I have seen the news clips when people have filmed events from either indoors, through their windows, or standing out exposed in the areas," he said.

"We don't encourage that sort of activity, especially outdoors."

#comments


- ABC

© ABC 2017

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
National Nine News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Ute-load of kindness a random act giving a farmer struggling with drought hope

14:28 EST

NSW Upper Hunter farmer David Wicks is struggling through the worst drought in living memory, but a stranger in the city that googled his name has given him hope.

Blustery Monday in SA

12:45 EST

A cold front will cause squally wind, showers and thunderstorms in South Australia today, with damaging gusts possible in some populated areas.

Canberra's coldest morning of 2018

07:45 EST

Canberra is having its coldest morning so far this year after the mercury dropped to minus 7.4 degrees.