Monday, 22 February 2016

Hidden Cameras by Joe Plomin

This is a book that might not be of interest to many people outside of the television/media industries. As a former current affairs journalist who was employed on a number of Channel 4 Dispatches productions, my interest was obvious. But many people might shy away from such a niche title. This is a pity because as the author demonstrates secret filming is becoming increasingly ubiquitous. From nanny cams, through people filming confrontations with the police on their smart phones, to concerned relatives secreting cameras in the nursing homes of their elderly residents; there are innumerable examples of people taking the initiative themselves. Equally there are countless reasons why someone might take the step to secretly film: some might be actively trying to capture and expose perceived or suspected wrongdoings, once the sole preserve of the professional journalist; others might simply be paranoid or think it better to be safer than sorry; still others might seek to incite wrongdoing in the hope of causing embarrassment or gaining financial reward. And with the increasing availability of digital cameras and their falling cost, there are more options than ever regardless of motive or target.

Joe Plomin, himself a veteran of many a BBC Panorama, has written a definitive manual on Hidden Cameras and how to go about secret filming. But he doesn’t shy away from the ethics of such a path and nor does he advocate a laissez faire approach. Rather he advises caution and asks the reader to consider whether this is really what they need to do. If having weighed up all the legal and ethical considerations the reader decides that the issue they wish to investigate is serious enough to warrant such a level of intrusion, and that there really is no other way of going about it, then the author has packed in sound advice on how to conduct such an investigation. From choosing a camera to the actual process of surreptitiously filming, Joe Plomin offers sound and mature advice. He covers how to conduct oneself when filming, offers advice on what to do if challenged or if one comes under suspicion, and even how to film secretly with a phone or tablet.

This is an important work for the professional reporter, the citizen journalist, the political activist, the concerned family member or relative. What it is not is a reckless call to arms for digital camera wielding vigilantes or those looking to make a quick buck. This is a sober work that stresses the need for responsibility, highlights the legal and ethical pitfalls, warns of the damage that can be done when such a powerful tool is wielded inappropriately. That said, when the goals are just, this is a book that could make the difference between success and failure, between the exposure of wrongdoing or it being swept under the carpet.

For that reason I award this 5 stars.

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