To Whom Does A Story Belong? Media rights and Considered consent for storytelling across cultures
In this media landscape, we are conditioned to believe that stories belong to those who ‘capture’ them. The individual who crafts the narrative – with words, pictures or sounds – holds all the “rights” to control it. However, when telling stories about real life, it is not so simple. Telling stories that are about other people requires a high level of ethical consideration and responsibility.
For ethical storytellers, who want to ensure they are documenting and sharing with ‘free and informed consent’, an overly broad media release is not enough. The question of who stories belong to is a complex and multifaceted one. While the storyteller may have the technical ownership of the story, the ethical ownership lies with all the stakeholders involved.
To ensure ethical storytelling, it is important to consider the stakeholders at every stage of the storytelling process. On our Actuality Abroad Storytelling Expeditions, we usually have 3 kinds of stakeholders:
#1. The storytellers
Filmmakers, photographers, writers, and editors; all of the people who are involved with researching, planning, documenting, and editing a story.
#2. The featured
Individuals formerally known as ‘subjects’ whose personal experiences are documented and eventually shared.
#3. The changemakers
the leadership of organizations that enable us to do these storytelling expeditions in communities that are not our own. They leverage their resources and relationships to give us access to their work and the wisdom of their people.
All three of these groups need to be considered and consenting when it comes to storytelling. One of the key principles of ethical storytelling is the concept of “informed consent”. This means that the people involved in the story are fully aware of the purpose, scope, and potential impact of the story. They have the right to give or withhold their consent, and their decision should be respected.
Obtaining informed consent can be a complex and challenging process, especially in situations where there are power imbalances or cultural differences at play. It requires a high degree of sensitivity, empathy, and communication skills. It also involves recognizing and respecting the rights of others, including their right to privacy, dignity, and autonomy.
One way to ensure that stories are owned by all stakeholders is to adopt a collaborative and participatory approach to storytelling. This means involving the subjects of the story in the process, giving them a voice and agency in shaping the narrative, and sharing the final product with them for feedback and validation. By doing so, storytellers can build trust, establish mutual respect, and create more authentic and impactful stories.
Another approach to sharing stories responsibly is to adopt a creative commons rights usage, as Actuality Abroad does. This allows the stories to be shared freely and openly, while still ensuring that the rights and interests of all stakeholders are protected. It also promotes a culture of sharing and collaboration, where stories can be used to educate, inspire, and empower others.
In addition to obtaining consent and adopting a participatory approach, ethical storytellers should also be mindful of the potential impact of their stories. They should consider the ethical implications of their storytelling decisions, such as the potential harm or benefit to the subjects, the potential to perpetuate stereotypes or biases, or the potential to inspire positive change. They should also be aware of the power dynamics involved in storytelling, and seek to avoid reinforcing or perpetuating unequal relationships.
Finally, it is important for ethical storytellers to reflect on their own biases, assumptions, and values, and to strive for objectivity, accuracy, and fairness in their storytelling. This means acknowledging and addressing their own blind spots, seeking diverse perspectives and sources of information, and being transparent and accountable about their process and decision-making.
It’s also important to note that the process of acquiring consent is ongoing throughout the storytelling journey. It’s not just a one-time deal. Consent should be obtained at every stage of the process, from pre-production to post-production, to ensure that everyone involved is comfortable with the way their story is being told and the way it is being shared with the world.
It’s important for storytellers to consider the impact their work may have on the individuals and communities they are documenting. Storytelling can be a powerful tool for raising awareness and inciting change, but it can also be exploitative and harmful if not done responsibly. It’s crucial for storytellers to be mindful of power dynamics and to strive for a collaborative, equitable approach.
At Actuality Abroad, we believe in the power of storytelling to create positive change in the world. We also believe in the importance of doing so ethically and responsibly, with free and informed consent from all stakeholders. By following these principles and working collaboratively with our partners, we strive to create authentic and impactful stories that honor the dignity and agency of the individuals and communities we document.
The question of who a story belongs to is a complex one, especially when it comes to stories about real people and their experiences. While the storyteller may craft the narrative, it’s important to recognize and respect the agency and autonomy of the individuals and communities being documented. By obtaining free and informed consent at every stage of the process, and by striving for a collaborative, equitable approach, we can create stories that are not only powerful but also ethical and responsible.