Tag Archives: david southall

The ethics of using CCTV footage – A Very Dangerous Doctor

A Very Dangerous Doctor is a Channel 4 documentary about David Southall, the controversial doctor who was struck off after “abusing his position” in accusing a mother of killing her son.

The documentary includes CCTV footage of parents smothering their children, filmed covertly as part of Southall’s research into cot deaths. The footage is incredibly distressing – the Independent rightly describe it as “among the most shocking to be shown on TV”. Many tweeted that they were switching off the 100-minute broadcast – barely five minutes in – as a result.

The documentary is an excellent piece of work, and worth watching in full – but the CCTV footage raises an old ethical issue in a new context: is it justified?

There is a wealth of literature on the ethics of war reporting: whether distressing images should be shown, and the arguments for and against.

The spread of CCTV and mobile phone footage, its accessibility and its release by police authorities and availability on YouTube, raises similar questions – whether it is footage of a woman throwing her baby on the floor, race attacks, or the death of a protestor.

What are the questions to ask when you are given such footage? What are the ethical issues to balance? And what about this specific example (the footage begins around 04’25)? I’d love to know what you think.