Do Animals Deserve a Little Privacy?

One of the reasons nature documentaries are so popular is because they often present a side of wildlife normally reserved for biologists who spend months studying them. In recent years, advances in technology has given filmmakers access to capture scenes from high atop a forest canopy or deep within a hidden burrow, allowing them to record animals' most private moments. But for all the awareness and fascination generated by these intimate documentaries, some are wondering whether they go too far to film them, which raises the question: Do animals deserve a little privacy?According to a report from the Guardian, questions of filmmaking ethics are being raised by one professor of film-studies from the University of East Anglia, Brett Mills, who compiled a report on the topic of animals' rights to privacy. For Mills, the widely accepted notion that human beings are entitled to privacy, particularly in intimate moments, should extend to members of the animal kingdom whose exploits have largely been on full display in nature documentaries.

Mills, to the Guardian:

We have an assumption that humans have some right to privacy, so why do we not assume that for other species, particularly when they are engaging in behavior that suggests they don't want to be seen?

In contrast to the animal kingdom, humans generally expect a right to not have their image used without permission, which is protected under the law in most societies--but is especially so as it pertains to situations where a level of privacy is expected. Laws against peeping toms, for example, are rigorously enforced for people, but no such protection applies to animals.

Mills recounted a situation he aired in a recent BBC documentary. In it, a whale eluded camera operators by diving beneath an arctic ice sheet. "Instead of thinking we'll leave it alone, filmmakers decide the only solution is to develop new technology so they can film it," he said.

Defending itself from Mills' criticisms, a spokesman from the BBC told the Guardian that the intimate nature of wildlife documentaries does more good than harm:

Constantly developing filming technology gives wildlife film-makers the ability to film animal behavior with minimal disruption to the animal. Filmmakers work very closely with scientists whose work studying the complexity of animal lives is vital for wildlife conservation.

In a society that holds privacy in such high regard, with many regarding it as a basic human right, Mills' suggestion that animals deserve similar protection is not without merit. But considering all the other disparities between human rights and animals rights, a little private time does not fall high on the list.

It is important, however, that documentaries aiming to raise awareness about nature avoid disturbing the wildlife being filmed. After all, there's still plenty of animals out there who don't seem too camera-shy.

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Tags: Animals | Biology | Ethical | Photography

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