Video Advocacy

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Video Advocacy

Filmmakers and communities are using the power of video to change the world around them for the better. This Featured Online Dialogue focused on ways in which these mechanisms can be utilized and how their mandates and resources can address social change.

New Tactics is pleased to host these experienced resource practitioners from seven countries.



The dialogue “video advocacy” explored how video can be used in human rights campaigns for educational outreach and documentation. Video can be a tool for mobilizing people to take action, empowering victims of human rights violations, and promoting reconciliation in affected communities. There are, however, a number of questions that remain as to the effectiveness of video, how it can be made more accessible to different audiences, and how to empower different communities and organizations to use it.

Using Video for Advocacy

Videos are beneficial for advocacy campaigns because they are a simple and efficient way to convey the main points of an idea or project to many people.

  • Using language in video: Creating videos that do not depend on language to tell a story would make the videos more accessible. However, it may not be feasible to convey the message without using language and there are concerns that the images would be overly graphic and traumatic.
  • Turning video into action: Often, videos can be become short-lived fads. To ensure that they serve their purpose of informing and compelling people to take action, it is necessary to provide an action component to the video and make the viewer feel like they can create change. It is useful to include video as part of a larger advocacy campaign, ensuring there is context to the video.
  • Video production: Video activists must apply ethics to their productions by providing accurate information and anticipating how it will be received by their audiences. Being intentional about the style of film is one way to make sure that the film’s production value aligns with its content. When interpreters are needed during production, it is important to recognize that they are filters of culture and information and can impact the final product.

Engaging the Audience and Distribution

Audience should play an important role when video creators are thinking about the intention of their video. It is necessary to have a clearly defined audience in mind during production and to make sure the video is appropriate for and understood by the intended audience. Test audiences can be useful in this process.

Audiences can often become desensitized and feel like they cannot make a difference when shock value is used as an outreach tool. One way of avoiding this is to train individuals to tell their own ‘human stories.’ If audiences are hostile, videos should be catered to their direct concerns. Video can also be used to put pressure on particularly hostile audiences to join negotiations by threatening a public release of a video that puts them in a negative light.

Changing Technology

With the availability of new technology, video production and distribution has become more accessible, particularly with the mobile phone. Cell phones are great for allowing nearly anyone to participate in documenting human rights violations and distributing videos generally, but there are also concerns about privacy and consent because videos can be uploaded without first seeking others’ approval.

Resources for Advocacy

[Photo: Adam Simpson]

  • What
    are your initial stages of decision making when using video?
  • How
    do you define your audience and tailor your video to that audience?
    (communities, activists, legal decision-makers, policy makers, global
    Internet audiences, general public, broadcast media, etc). How do you
    frame your ‘ask’ of the audience? What are you asking them to

  • How
    do you assess the impact (both positive and negative) of using video for
    your advocacy campaign?
  • What
    must one keep in mind when using video for various outcomes / goals?
    (evidence, awareness,
    uniting/empowering communities, policy/legislation change)
Using video for the New Tactics project

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Hello everyone! I'm happy to be hosting and participating in this dialogue because I am very interested in the relationship between technology and human rights advocacy.

I would like to share with everyone our project's idea for using video. I like the way that CommonCraft has created videos to explain a complicated idea in a very simple straightforward manner. Here is an example of a video made by CommonCraft explaining 'Social Networking in Plain English'.

We are interested in creating videos like this to describe our 'Tactical Notebooks'. We'd like to have a short video for each tactic, so that practitioners can easily and quickly understand the basic idea behind the tactic, and then be able to share this idea with their colleagues and networks involved in their campaign.

I would like to take this idea a step further and transcend language, so that the videos wouldn't need any narrative. I want to make these ideas available to everyone - not just those that can read English! (of course there is always the problem of internet connectivity, etc..but there might be some ways around this by getting the videos to the practitioners on the ground another way (CD, etc)).

Has anyone embarked on a video training project like this? Any advice, suggestions, ideas would be very appreciated!

Re: Using video for the New Tactics project

Hi Kristin,

We haven't managed to make them non-language specific, but we worked with a great team at Magic Lantern to produce these short visual guides to video advocacy (before filming, filming and then 'after filming'): . They could be onekind of model to consider? They are roughly five minute long animations with voiceover and text (can be easily switched to other languages) and an accompanying pdf that can be easily shown, shared and burnt to CD or DVD to introduce people to the idea of video advocacy. I definitely think animation either of this kind or like Commoncraft is the way to go. And make them Creative Commons licensed so anyone can take and use (and translate).

Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

Re: Using video for the New Tactics project

What challenges might one meet in trying to make a video
language-free?  Certainly it would be wonderful to create something
transcending language and literacy barriers.  Language, however, seems
to be key in virtually all of the videos discussed on this board so

(I love the concept of video advocacy, by the way)


Kelsey oseid 

Language-free video

That's an interesting questions Kelsey. I too wonder whether one might make a language-free video - relying simply on the language of imagery.

I recently watched Ousmane Sembene’s “Black Girl” and was struck by the emotional strength of the story that was told in very large part through imagery and the strength of the directorship rather than through dialogue (to read more about the film:

I wonder if we could recreate this type of emotional strength for video advocacy with little or no dialogue. But, I also wonder if in order to do so, we would have to rely on the graphic imagery of war and poverty that some may be desensitized to and with which there would be little contextualizing or humanizing of the issue we are seeking to change. Has anyone seen any video for change that is language-free but effectively compelling to action?

Though not language-free, in Awaiting Tomorrow, one of the videos I worked on while I was at WITNESS, we worked with silence as a ‘voice’ – keeping the long pauses in dialogue and not including music to fill or accompany dialogue free scenes. I think it served to firmly place the audience in the moment, providing a firm sense of reality and also allowed the expressions and body-language of the people in the video to say as much as their words.


Hakima Abbas, Fahamu

How to do it?

I'd wonder how feasible it would be for creating a video that didn't use
language. That tells me that it would to be wholly reliant on symbols and
representation to tell its message. (As an aside, we all know how
difficult that is
.) But I'd question the ability to make something that
would be universally understood. With images, I think it's difficult to build
up a context and shape someone’s interpretation.  The best example of a
film that does this is Koyaanisqatsi
A remarkable film trilogy, the only word that is spoken is the Hopi Native
American word Koyaanisqatsi, briefly in the beginning and at the end. The rest
of the film is a montage of poetic symbolism meant to portray humankind’s
relationship with technology.  I have my own conclusions and
interpretations of the film, but people can reach opposite conclusions at the
end that are completely opposed. One could conclude that the film is about the
self-destructive nature that the path of technology is leading us on or that
the film is a celebration of the achievements and wonderment that the ingenuity
of people has developed. But because the narrative isn't spoken, both are
valid.   The hurdles of showing versus telling. 

I did find that the video that Kristin first posted to be interesting.  I didn't have sound on my computer when I first watched it, but I found that I was able to follow along and understand what they were trying to tell me. At least I think.

Brandon Boat, New Tactics Intern

Telling about torture and ill treatment video and more

Hi Kristin and everyone,

Telling about torture and ill treatment video and more

Greetings from Louis Frankenthaler at the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)

The act of telling about torture and ill treatment is multi-dimensional: it is textual and designed to engage the public. It happens when we write and publish a report. (Our newest report on soldier violence, No Defense: Soldier Violence against Palestinian Detainees” focuses on a large number of incidents of violence against Palestinian detainees after they had been arrested, bound, and no longer present a danger to the soldiers, and our most recent reports: The reports are based on PCATI's daily legal work on behalf of victims and are characterized by filing complaints to the authorities, accompanied by the victim's testimony/affidavit and by filing petitions to Israel's Supreme Court. Now we are expanding and using video, for the first time. This video that I want to share with all of you is our newest effort to demonstrate to Israelis that torture and ill treatment are still being used by Israel both in interrogation at other stages in which Israeli security forces encounter Palestinians. We will continue to use this medium both specifically in relation to torture and as we expand discourse in Israel to explain how the issue of torture is so integral to how we, in this society relate to the protection of civilians, both from an International Humanitarian Law perspective and from a moral/philosophical one.

The next link, is to our homepage where the video that PCATI co-produced with B'tselem another Israeli HR NGO can be found. The video is in Hebrew and is designed to draw the Israeli viewer into an understanding that torture is not a 'foreign' issue that happens only to the Other. It makes it clear that the torture victim, in the eyes of his tormentor is the classic Other, removed, in that situation, from all contact with the outside world: no lawyer, no judge, and no family member just the victim and perpetrator. It is a classic situation in which darkness and the feeling, as expressed by the victim, of having no future are overwhelming and indeed are part of the atmosphere that the victimizer seeks to create.

Although the video is in Hebrew and in Arabic it is effective in many ways, if you have a little bit of information. The lead up text explains the significance of 26 June as the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It further explains that 145 nations have signed the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) including Israel yet in many of these countries torture and ill treatment continue, including in Israel.

The video then proceeds with two testimonies from two local torture victims. We start with Dr. David Senesh, an Israeli who was tortured by the Egyptian security forces as a POW during the 1973 Israeli-Arab War. His narrative speaks of the horror of torture that is in the physical and the beyond, the not knowing about what is to come. You can read more about his experience here, in these essays:

  1. From a speech at PCATI's event on 26 June 06, “Imprisonment, Interrogation and Torture”
  2. from "A Former Prisoner of War as Therapist" (page 9):

The second testimony comes from a Palestinian victim, Amjad Abu-Salha, who was tortured by the Israeli security forces in 2005. He also speaks of the brutality inflicted on him, and the dehumanization that he felt, going beyond the physical to the point in which the torturers succeeded in destroying him only in the present but in the future. You can read more about his experience here, starting on page 56 of PCATI's report, "Ticking Bombs"

Amjad's narrative is juxtaposed with David's and together they create a blended narrative that is both universal, in that any other victim, a Chilean victim of Pinochet's regime, a Sudanese refugee or victim of Pol Pot from Cambodia, could easily join this joint act of telling and fit in yet it also remains within the possession of the individual victim who, by telling his story is able to draw the listener into this process and actually cause him or her to be come a witness. It is then our role if not our duty to use this to bring about social change. Thus their stories resonate and the impact of their stories, together is, we hope, magnified more so than if we had offered them separately.

The purpose of this video then is to serve both a strategy, to bring about an end to torture and ill treatment in Israel and as a tactic, to cause Israelis to understand that torture is not a 'foreign' experience and that the torture we inflict on others can be read as the torture inflicted on ourselves.

Feel free to contact me:

Louis Frankenthaler Development & International Outreach Director Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) "The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." (Steve Biko)

Empowering 9 women in Pakistan to use video for advocacy

Hello all, I just wanted to share an article about the power of video advocacy for 9 women in Pakistan:

A training workshop called WISE (Women’s International Shared Experience Project) was held by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research to help women overcome the abuse they have suffered and create awareness about violence against women by learning the technical and creative processes involved in filmmaking.

The nine women were all survivors of some kind of physical, mental or sexual abuse. They came from different parts of Karachi and other areas in Sindh, including Tando Adam, said the programme’s coordinator Saleha Atha.


Part 1 -
Part 2 -

Reading through

I liked your style of sharing the valuable ideas with us which is inspiring and fascinating one for the readers.

Trancending Fads

Hello! Being an college student, the main interaction I've had with video advocacy is being a viewer. I find videos to be one of the most effective means to inform, educate, spark discussion and gain support, especially among the younger community. On that note, however, I've witnessed video after video that seem to disapear as quickly as they appear. Resources like youtube and google video seem to be breeding "fad videos," or videos that shock, encourage or disgust you for a while, but are then quickly forgotten.

So I guess my question is, how you can prevent this from happening? Can you prevent it? Or is the fad problem one that is automatically present when video is used a medium?


Lily Rubenstein 

Re: Transcending Fads

I agree that many times videos come out and often create a
stir and then are soon forgotten.  I think that what is sometimes missing
is follow up.  Simply raising an issue is not enough to create
change.  Speaking from a viewer's perspective as well, I think that I am
always inclined to do more when there is an action component that comes out of
the video.  Whether it is an encouragement to simply sign a petition or to
become a volunteer, I see the video as a starting point and everything else as
necessary components to effect change.  Video advocacy efforts definitely
do an excellent job of raising important issues, but for a world that is ever
complicated and where people have multiple and pressing demands, I think that
clearly outlining or specifying what individuals can do to combat a certain
injustice would be helpful for activists along the spectrum.  To summarize, I think that
video advocacy coupled with action components can continue to raise awareness
of the issue in question while at the same time producing some sort of tangible

Turning viewing into action

I agree with both Lily and Mahmooha on this - it's really critical to think about two dimensions to effective video advocacy to make sure that the video gets action.

The first is to make sure that any video is grounded in a surrounding advocacy campaign - so the video you make to submit as part of a legal case reinforces the presentation you make, or the organizing video you make will help drive people to join a movement or attend a meeting. We've definitely found at WITNESS that the idea that the campaign drives the video (rather than the advocacy as an afterthought) is really key. One way we've put it is to think: is the video 'about an issue' (ie. I'm going to make a video "about" discrimination) or is it 'for a reason and for an audience' (ie. I'm making a video to persuade my local councillors to support an ordinance to ban discrimination on the basis of xxx'. Definitely in an advocacy context the second approach is preferable.

The second dimension is to think about how to build a space for action into your video. This is particularly important in web and online video where often you have less control over where the video will be embedded or circulated. You want to make sure that even if its detached from your advocacy context (and thats part of the power of online video that it can circulate more widely) people will still know how to act once they've watched it.

IWhen someone watches a video, it's not so much a question of whether you are trying to scandalize, shame, motivate, anger or persuade your audience - all of those are potentially useful emotions and reactions that can be turned into action. . But rather do you allow viewers to feel that they can contribute to changing the situation. So even that instantaneous, spot reaction to a YouTube video can be worth something. Sometimes creating that space for action can as simple as directly providing options from people in the video, or a link to the website. Other times its about making sure that the tone and narrative of the video doesn't lead to a completely downbeat, closed-off story.. One idea to think about is can you in the video "point the way to the happy ending" - we know that the current situation is bad, but what would it look like if we achieved the change we want. Often more upbeat positive videos are the way forward to get people motivate. Check out the video 'Books Not Bars' on the WITNESS Hub to see an example of a video trying to motivate and engage with positive visions of action a younger activist audience:

We talk a lot more about this in the WITNESS 'Video for Change' book- in the Storytelling chapter -- which you can access at

Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (


Hello everyone,

I have a question that I think is similar to Lily's but a little different as well... I feel like all too often we (media consumers) are so bombarded with horrific videos of violence or poverty that the shock value disappears and we become almost accustomed to seeing these types of videos.

Do you think that desensitization is a problem with using video advocacy? Do you think using shock value is an effective way to reach people? and how can we prevent people from becoming desensitized?


Alexa, New Tactics Intern

Re: Desensitizing...?

Thank you for this question Alexa. I think it is an important one when thinking through a video for advocacy. Indeed, we all see horrific images each night on the news, and in our newspapers, and, depending on where we live, we see the real images in our daily lives, so some may indeed be desensitized to graphic imagery of war and poverty. But, in my experience as a human rights defender and a video activist, the most powerful videos are those in which a person's story is told.

It is often more compelling (to action) for a video to not only show the horrors of human rights violations, but, to tell the story of survivors - who they are as people, why they have been compelled to speak out, what they hope for, how they feel about their experiences, what they themselves hope will change and how.

While many of us may not remember the number of people who have been killed, maimed, raped, displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as these figures and news headlines are thrown at us with "shock value", I remember vividly the stories, names, faces of individual child survivors of abduction and use as child soldiers that I worked on at WITNESS in their A Duty to Protect video:

It is that individual connection between the viewer and survivor which is one of the factors that can move people to action through video.


attaching a personal story


Thank you! That is so true that when there is a name and a face attached to an issue then it is remembered, and that is a very powerful way to avoid desensitizing your audience.


Using personal stories for video advocacy

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Well put, Hakima. I agree that listening to the human story of survivors is far more compelling than seeing the horrors of the human rights violations. I think that going for the 'shock value' does just that - shocks the viewer into an inability to act. the viewer  feels paralyzed and overwhelmed.

'Telling the human story'  seems to be an important part of the video-making process. Is this part of your training when working with people on the ground? (this question is for all of those using video and training human rights workers to use video for their own advocacy campaigns) How do you train groups to 'tell the story' in addition to all those technical aspects of creating a film?


Video that change culture

Madhuri Mohindar, Breakthrough

I have been following the thread for using video for advocacy. I agree that very often videos seem to have a short shelf life and then disappear. Sometimes, one feels that only silly, fun videos seem to be forwarded and do well. But one of the most popular videos on youtube is a music video called the Free Hugs campaign with more than 2 million views and I think its also popular because it makes one feel good and engaged at the same time.

Its a really simple concept - a music video that inspires purely through images, even if one doesnt understand the words. At Breakthrough, we really believe the media and popular culture are the tools for social change. It is very important to use video to change laws and affect change ona global or local government level - by engaging state actors. But it is also crucial to engage non state actors - namely people like you and me. And the way we believe one can to do that is to build a human rights culture using media. So its not just about changing laws, but about changing the cultural context of a society. That process works from creating awareness, to changing attitudes, to finally taking action.

One of our first music videos was Mann ke Manjeere - an attempt to address women's rights and domestic violence using music and movies - and drawing on a real life example of a woman who broke all barriers in India.

It received an incredible response and even today, people remember the music and the video that reached 26 million households via six satellite music television
channels, effectively mainstreaming discussions about domestic violence
issues throughout South Asia and reaching far and wide.

Video that change culture

This video is indeed very inspiring - it draws you in by evoking the connection that seems quite universal - to find that place where you are truly free to be yourself - before you realize that it is telling a story about domestic violence. It is especially inspiring as a woman to see the multi-generations depicted in the video.

It seems to me that this is effective messaging no matter what medium but the power of this video is that the music and words are very liberating while you're watching images of both the past (domestice violence), present (the transition from the old place), to the futre (that also includes a new hope and vision of tomorrow through the young girl.

Is this past, present, future aspect important in developing videos or does this depend on the overall message you want to provide?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Context for Video

Madhuri Mohindar, Breakthrough

I think a context is always important for videos - bt it doesnt always have to be past, present, future. We have used the past, present, future context in another one of our music videos that highlight women's rights, but in a different way than Mann Ke Manjeere. Here, it is not a straight, narrative structure. In the video of Babul, we show a little girl at party, seeing glimpses into the lives of the party goers that seem so happy from the outside, and yet face stark realities in their homes - and the entire context of the song is around the future of this little girl, who is asking for a future that is secure, not one that has wealth and fame, but that allows her to be herself and grow.

In other instances, particularly in PSA's and ads which is another context in which Breakthrough creates media in India around women's health and sexuality, it is not possible to include a story of the woman's life, but the message is as stark, through the use of statistics at the end that give the overall context to the issue.

So I think it eventually depends on the overall message, but a context is always important, and needs to be highlighted to prevent misinterpretation and to give deeper understanding of the human element.

Correct link for Mann ke Manjeere

Madhuri Mohindar, Breakthrough

The correct link for Mann ke Manjeer is 

Video for advocacy around HIV/AIDS or forced displacement?

Hi all - WITNESS is working on two specific upcoming trainings that will focus on rights activism around HIV/AIDS and around development-induced forced displacement. Anyone have experience of, or know of successful use of video in advocacy around these issues? Please share!


Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

Video for advocacy

Hi Sam

There is a lot of displacement happening because of development in India, because of all the Special Economic Zones the government is setting up. For instance it's happening in a very bad way in West Bengal with the Tata plants going up there. One of our trainers, Projit, made a film about that that was shown on CNN IBN but I'm not sure it went much farther. Then of course ther's the whole Narmada dam thing from a decade ago. I'm sure there will be interesting impact stories of the use of film in that struggle.
Stalin may know, I'm cc'ing him.

We'd love to do some cell phone video campaigning experiments with the Hub. We got a donation of 40 nokia cell phones (part of pangea day) and are thinking of interesting advocacy campaigns the community producers can do using them. Ruchika (whom you introduced us to) has just started working with us full-time on our website where we are showing the community producers films. she's coming in towitness to talk to Sameer next week,
maybe they can discuss some intersting cell phone campaigns we can do with the hub, uploading directly from some of our field areas.


Audience targeting: 2 egs, same 'issue', different audiences

To help illustrate the idea of the importance of knowing your audience and objectives before you make your video, here's an example of two videos on a similar issue ('about juvenile justice in the USA), but for very different audiences, with different objectives and at different stages of a campaign.

Here's Books Not Bars, (excerpted version) produced by WITNESS with our partner the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in California in 2001. It was designed to be used in youth organizing around the prison-industrial complex in the USA, and highlights youth-led activism across the nation. The style is fast-cutting, many of the voices are of youth activists, and the tone is empowering. The video was highly effective in mobilizing youth, often in the context of community meetings, and alongside music and spoken word.

Contrast that to System Failure: Violence, Abuse and Neglect in the CYA, produced again with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, but in 2005, when the campaign in California for reform of the juvenile justice system had moved to the legislature. The video has a very different style, highlights the voices of parents of incarcerated youth, legislators and even counter-intuitive voices of people within the administration of the system, and pushes for very specific policy reforms with financial and moral reasoning. It was the first film ever screened at the State Capitol in California, and was screened five days before the launch of legislation to reform the California system of jails for youth. Since then its been screened to other policymakers, probation officers etc to help convince them of the need for reform. It's been a key part of a successful campaign to reduce admissions to the most abusive facilities, and to push genuine reform.

Knowing these differing audiences (community/youth vs. legislators/older adults) its interesting to watch the videos back-to-back.

Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

The Movers and Shakers

Hey all,

I was wondering what you thought of the pop culture titans in this field? Specifically, the postmodernist style of Michael Moore. While his films are usually embroiled in controversy, they are still the highest grossing advocacy films in the world.

Then to make a distinction, what about people such as Errol Morris? I think films like The Thin Blue Line or Standard Operating Procedue are extraordinarily well done and harken back an era defining film such as Hearts and Minds from the 70's. But how does the motivation of profit invovled with these films make you feel? I understand that earning money for your work is what keeps it going and the desire for self expression is meritorious, but these films have millions of dollars invested in them. I guess it's sort of a means and ends relationship.

Brandon Boat, New Tactics Intern

RE: the movers and the shakers

Hi Brandon,

We have all seen movie trailers rumbling, "The latest film from the Director of  - - - insert previous popular film here  - - - ." Regardless of the storyline, these films have been marketed a bit like the latest software upgrade: same quality product, but with new features. Whether it is a marker of success/quality or simply a marketing strategy, when a Director, for example, becomes the story, instead of the story itself, I think the purpose can blur out of focus.

Similarly if a film is governed by the need or ambition to make profit, the subject matter may be compromised. The distribution strategy could put more effort towards how many people see the film, at the expense of who sees the film and when. In the end the story should push for a specific, desired change as it's main goal, not simply revenue. 



Re: The Movers and Shakers

I agree that the motivation of profits should be considered in reference to
video advocacy. While some may question the motivation of those films which
gross large revenues, I think it is helpful to examine for one, what the filmmaker
is doing to advance the cause for which the film is advocating on behalf. If
the filmmaker is a committed activist then a large revenue would be great to
advance the cause which they are promoting.

Another point that I think is helpful to consider is that in the end, even
if the film is motivated primarily be making profits, it can nonetheless
encourage others to take action and then as you said, it could be a means to an

Maha Hilal

Highlighting Different Angles

Madhuri Mohindar, Breakthrough

One of the things I also wanted to flag about creating videos for change is to highlight different ways of seeing the same issue. For example, when Breakthrough speaks of immigration in relation to how immigrants are being detained and deported in the United States, we try to highlight the intersection of immigrant idenities with other identities, such as medical mistreatment in detention, or being a woman in detention, or LGBT movement and immigration, looking at the intersections of idenities and how everyone can come under the same roof to fight for human rights. 

In the same vein, in our last campaign in India 'Is This Justice' we looked at the way HIV/AIDS intersects with womens rights. Nearly 40 percent of the 5.2 million HIV positive people in India are women and nearly 80 percent of them have contracted this infection from their husbands or partners. Yet, almost 90 percent of these positive women are thrown out of their homes after their husbands die of AIDS. The campaign asks for greater responsibility from the immediate family and challenges the way in which women in our society are treated.

It was created pro bono by advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather in four languages -Hindi, English, Kannada and Marathi. It launched on key tv, radio and print outlets including: Doordarshan, STAR network, Sony Entertainment Television, Etv (Kannada, Marathi, Hindi), Dainik Jagran, Lokmat, Prajavani, Udyavani, Radio Mirchi and All India Radio. Breakthrough also continues conducting workshops and educational forums with students, homemakers, medical and legal professionals and other groups on the same issues.

Watch the ads and psas

Video - a tool for deterrence and justice in Palestine

Video cameras are being provided to Palestinians in the West Bank by an Israeli human rights group - Btselem. (see videos under "New Project: Shooting Back")

The project called "Shooting Back" has distributed 150 video cameras which have been used as a new nonviolent weapon for
West Bank Palestinians. Palestinians have been using the video cameras in response to a rising number of attacks at the
hands of Israeli settlers.  The Palestinian video footage is being shown on Israeli TV and providing a different tool for deterring the violent actions of settlers and for providing proof that can lead to justice.

For more information about how this tactic is being used - please see the article "When settlers strike, Palestinians point and shoot video" by Ilene R. Prusher, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

  • How do you address
    ethical issues such as protecting identities, going undercover, and
    securing full informed consent?
  • How do you reduce
    risk and ensure the safety of people being filmed and others involved?
  • How do you address security
    issues around video and the internet?
  • What have been your
    challenges and successes regarding safety and security when filming and
    using film for your campaign?
Safety and Security


To reduce risk and ensure the safety we first talk to the people we are going to film and explain to them of how the footage will be used. In Burma people who can be filed are those who live in the war torn area who cannot meet the government soldiers. They have no security by filming them and use the footage for the video document.

Our video team have to cross between Burmese military camp and cross through land mine fiels to get in to the target area. The military troops patrolling and malaria is the great risk for our video team.

Thai government security along the border is also a challenge for us as they do not let the Human Rights group or activist to cross the border in to Burma or come to Thailand to do Human Rights activities.

Safety and Security: reducing the risk

Although risk can never be completely eliminated, careful planning and preparation can help reduce the risk of using video. Even simply having a good understanding of what shots are needed, who should take them and who should be in them, can limit the amount of unnecessary and potentially risky footage being taken.

The political landscape and personal linkages of a given area can change quickly and may not be clearly evident to everyone among the community itself. Therefore, to get a clearer picture of the local risk, before filming it’s always good to connect with a few different sources about the local realities.

Also, imagining the worst-case scenario of what can happen, for example, if the footage is confiscated by police and used against you in court or if members of the film crew are detained, can identify the potential hazards of filming and set safer boundaries about what is filmed and who films it.

Planning for the worst-case scenario

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

I think that's a really great point, Ryan, about being sure to plan for the worst-case scenario. I had considered risks to individuals with mobile phone camera to take pictures and videos, if they are detained. I hadn't considered these risks to entire film crews and others involved in the process - but the same risk certainly applies, if not more-so because of the attention. 

Taking these worst-case scenarios into account when preparing for filming a video must be a huge challenge! Can you (and other video practitioners) talk more about the process of planning your filming to avoid and/or address these security issues?  And security issues around the does this work into your preparations?

RE: Planning for the worst case scenario

Pulling together a competent and trustworthy crew is important for the security of a shoot. It is important to consider the gender, ethnicities and nationalities and other identifiers (ie politics) of your crew based on an assessment of the area and the project.

I worked with an interpreter who was hired before I arrived in country to interview local persons about potential vote rigging. I thought we were lucky to hire a staff person from a local development organization.

Interpreters not only translate language, intentionally or not, they interpret the meaning and the context of what is being said. It is in interpreting the meaning of an interviewee’s words where other factors may influence the interpreter.

After a day or two, I recognized the interpreter seemed to dismiss comments from certain persons while allowing others to elaborate on their responses. A pattern emerged, which was confirmed by a local staff person, that our interpreter was favoring members belonging to her own political party.

Obviously, this greatly influenced the material we were collecting. The team used its best judgment and decided that the interpreter was not endangering or intimidating the interviewees, but was definitely looking to put her political party in a better light.

The team adjusted its methods in an attempt to offset the interpreter’s apparent bias. We tried to give each interviewee adequate time to speak his/her mind and asked followed up questions when the interpreter appeared dismissive. In the end we conceded that there was a limited use for much of the information we collected.

Through this experience, I learned an interpreter is not merely a conduit of information but can also act as a filter, and the affiliations of those on your crew can greatly influence the work and how it is eventually viewed.

Worst case scenarios - role of interpreters

You are raising very important points regarding interpreters. They serve not only as critical resources for communication but also as cultural brokers and filters. We all carry our life experiences, affliations and biases with us. When utilizing interpreters, it is especially important to pay close attention to body language, continuity between questions and answers, as well as the reactions of others who are bi-lingual. 

You make an especially important observation in your comment: "I recognized the interpreter seemed to dismiss comments from certain persons while allowing other to elaborate on their reponses." Even though there might not be outright intimidation, the "non-welcoming" attitude of an interpreter is  at a minimum off-putting for people and impacts the level of trust, exchange and information shared.  

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Advance training for interpreters and whole team

I couldn't agree more with Ryan and Nancy that interpreters play a critical role in any production team. Your choice of interpreter plays a major part in how your interviewee perceives the team as a whole, the perspective of the film and therefore her/his willingness to share their story.

When I worked in Rwanda for a project on the Gacaca courts, we realized that the sensitivities of the post-genocide society meant that our selection of interpreter would be critical in who would be willing to talk with us and how they would share their perspectives and stories. In particular, many of the interviews we conducted were of women, some of whom had suffered gender-based violence during the genocide. In those situations, it may be more comfortable for the interviewee to speak to another woman. However, for both men and women interpreters, I think the key is for them to be provided with some advance training on how to conduct interviews with survivors of human rights violations.

While the interpreter will deliver and ‘interpret’ the message and is therefore a key part of the production team, I also think that the team as a whole should be provided training before conducting any interviews with survivors of human rights violations. This is important not only so that the survivors are not re-traumatized by the experience but, also to build the trust and comfort of the interviewee necessary to create a compelling film.

Hakima Abbas, Fahamu

Journalistic Ethics in video advocacy

Coming from a journalism background, I am really interested in the differences and similarities between journalism and video advocacy. Journalists are tied to a strict code of ethics that, if violated, can lead to the end of their job or to jail time. Im curious as to what kinds of ethics organizations put to use when choosing to use video advocacy? because, while the videos are inherently not journalistic because they promote and advocate for something instead of being unbaised, they are still meant to inform people of something.

What sort of codes of ethics are put into place for:

protecting sources? Protecting advocates? presenting more than one side of the story? checking facts? shooting accurate video that does not lead viewers to believe that they are seeing something they are not?

Also, I was wondering if anyone has any stories of situations in which they encountered problems with ethics in video advocacy?


Alexa, New Tactics Intern

Re: Journalistic Ethics

Hello Everyone,

I think that the ethics of video advocacy are very important. As
human rights defenders who use video as a tool for change, it is
important that the same ethics that guide an activist in their work
also guide their use of video. In particular, it is important that
the information be accurate, that the editing not be misleading, and
that the safety and security of all those featured in the video not
be compromised by its viewing. For a video to create change, it must
be credible, thus the information must be factual and presented
accurately. This is particularly the case when video is being used
as evidence in a legal case or in a quasi-judicial forum. Further,
with video, unlike with other documentation, it is very difficult to
limit or contain the distribution and dissemination, especially
through the web. While this makes video a powerful tool to get your
message out, it also means that you have to think about safety and
security in terms of the most widespread dissemination.

In terms of showing one side of the story, it may in fact be the
'point' of the video - eg. in cases where the government voice has
been the only voice heard on a particular situation and you want to
expose the voices of the people whose rights are being violated
rather than that of the State - and I think this is fine as long as
it is also stated clearly as the objective of the video and presented
as such to the audience.


Re: Journalistic Ethics

Hakima brought up ethics in editing. When I speak about editing, I feel some surprise from an audience about how dishonest and unethical editing and, therefore, video can be. In fact, most audiences do not consider the editing process when viewing a video - especially if the video is edited well and is not overly stylized.

Being part of an audience can be a very passive experience. Many release themselves from understanding how the video was conceived and constructed and simply watch the finished product. This is not unusual. I don't regularly consider how a novel was researched, written and rewritten and then constructed, before I have it in my hands. (Perhaps I should more often!)

There are extremely active audiences as well, who have a definite opinion about the video’s subject matter or have grown skeptical about their government’s or the media’s manipulation of video.

Audiences often assume a certain chronology and completeness with video: unless marked, shots follow each other as they were shot in order and interviews cover primarily the beginning and the end of a conversation. Of course this is not the case, and video and audio can be manipulated in thousands of ways: shots may be sequenced and truncated; audio can be augmented, erased or created; and technical effects and additional footage can alter how messages and images are interpreted.

Given these factors, editors should have a good understanding about how their audience views the role of video and their own role as audience members. There is a tendency to make the video as convincing to the audience as possible – almost at any cost. Over-manipulation of the content will not gain the audience’s trust and may even lead the audience to have a different opinion of the video’s participants and subject matter other than the one intended.

Re: Journalistic Ethics

I really liked your comment Hakima! What stood out most for me is the idea of showing one side of the story. As you describe, there is clearly a purpose for showing one side of the story--namely exposing people's voices that are suffering. I think that's it helpful to have this explictly stated as some people may misunderstand the point of showing only one viewpoint in the story. The truth of the matter is that only those who have lived through a particular experience can speak to this. The governments who implement certain policies or laws often have no knowledge of exactly how it is effecting people and that's why its so important to create a forum for people to voice their stories of struggle. Personal experiences are so often vividly recounted in video advocacy and there is no way anyone can dispute another person's experience.

Maha Hilal

Privacy issues around video and the internet

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

I do not have much experience uploading videos to internet sites like youtube and thehub, so I hope that this question will be easy enough to answer for those of you experienced in this work. I am looking into using video for training via the internet. The problem we are facing is that this training video has many security and privacy issues around it (security of those in the video, content being shared, etc). Do I have the option of uploading this video somewhere (I'm looking for some other option than my own server) but keeping it private - not sharing it with everyone on youtube - and then embedding that video inside a private internet website group (I have this last part figured out). Has anyone dealt with a situation like this?

Along these lines, has anyone out there experienced problems with privacy and security of content and people in videos? How did you deal with these problems? These stories would be great 'lessons learned' for those of us just starting to work with video for human rights advocacy - but are afraid of making those privacy mistakes! Thanks! 

Re: Privacy issues around video and the internet

One option for sharing video with a select group of people is to use a tool like Flixwagon (for adhoc video shot on a cellphone) or Blip.TV (which in its Pro account settings allows you to have a private or hidden video). I'd caution however that with digital media it's incredibly easy for video to leak (there are plenty of tools online to download videos from sharing sites), and there's no way to reverse that. That's part of the reason we encourage a 'worst-case scenario' model of informed consent since you have to assume that once digital media is out there it could circulate and be seen by anyone, including your worst enemy.

On the broader question of privacy online with video it basically relates to i) people uploading ii) people filmed. On the Hub we tell users if they are in a high-risk country for surveillance, have tips on protecting privacy of uploaders including using anonymizing tools, clearing history, and making sure to use a dedicated email addresss. On our end, we don't keep IP addresses, so we can't be sub-poena'd to reveal the identity of people uploading (which has been an issue with other video sharing sites).

In terms of protecting people filmed I think the issues on the internet are the same as with distribution of the video offline - make sure to ensure that people filmed understand the risks and the benefits and make an informed choice, and offer them opportunities to disguise their identity, voice or appearance. We have a free downloadable chapter on safety and security in our Video for Change book - also available in Russian, French, Spanish and Arabic at


Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

Re: Privacy issues around video and the internet

Thank you for your thoughtful response, Sam, to my post on privacy issues!  That was very good advice, and I will take a look at the resources that you included in your post.  I'm excited to take a look at those two video hosting sites that you suggested - blipTV and Flixwagon!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

WITNESS video on ethical issues related to safety & security

Friends, I want to share with you a wonderful video piece posted by Sam Gregory on the WITNESS Hub that provides an excellent overview of the critical questions regarding  ethical issues associated with creating videos for human rights advocacy. The video provides great insights regarding the safety and security of those being shown in video material. This is a tremendous resource and all provided in 6 minutes.

The Ethics of Online Video: Questions on Dignity, Re-Victimization, Consent, and Security
posted by Sam Gregory on August 17, 2009

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

  • Storytelling
  • Video production
    • Equipment
    • Training yourself
      on how to use the equipment
  • Editing for Advocacy
  • How to put your
    video on the internet, and what to do with it once it is there?
  • How much money
    should organizations budget for to implement the use of video? What is the
    range for the cost of a project like this?
Ingredients for the Perfect Film

Hi, Brandon here.  While documentaries are meant to be truthful and
informative, they still are a representation of reality and thus portray a
particular point of view at times.  Social
advocacy films can be especially pointed because the message usually informs
the viewer of an injustice and tries to motivate them to correct it.  Nearly every second of footage is purposeful
in completing a complete picture and these can be done in the mold of a certain
style.  There are a lot of different
styles that this can be done in and I was wondering how you cater a particular
style around an issue?

Depending on the issue or campaign, you’ll obviously cater
to a certain style so how do you plan for that? Before you even start filming,
do you have an idea of how you want things to go? For example, if it’s an
environmental issue do you try to have lots of interviews with those affected
in the video or is something else more persuasive?

Elements of a film

Madhuri Mohindar, Breakthrough

As you stated it yourself, the style of the film depends upon what you are trying to say. Firstly one doesn't only need to restrict oneself to documentaries for advocacy, this can range from music videos to documentaries to PSA's and animations. It can funny or serious or moving. In many ways the message determines the style.

I think its very important to highlight stories that arent being told. Particularly when one is using online video. We live in a media saturated environment but nevertheless, viewers are able to quickly sift between what they know and do not know.But when you tell a story that hasnt been told, most everyones attention is caught. Sometimes, it could even be about highlighting another angle of a story thats out there.

For example, at Breakthrough, we highlight the lack of due process and human rights affecting immigrants in the United States. Current immigration laws detain immigrants indefinitely, tie judges' hands and force them to deport immigrants without a hearing or minor offenses. We use video stories, animations and music to highlight this lack of due process affecting immigrants, particularly those facing detention and deportation.

One of our latest video stories, 'death by detention' is about Sandra Kenley, a 52 year grandmother who passed away in detention. Sandra's sister narrates this story passionately, as she demands answers from Immigration authorities. We used a documentary style to speak of this story, because it was important to personalize her voice. But the issue of medical mistreatment in detention is an extremely timely one, with the NY Times and Washington Post doing series of articles on the issues and a bill being passed in Congress. This is only one story of the 67 people who have passed away in detention since 2004, but its a timely and untold story.

In another case, we wanted to highlight that human rights is not just an international issue, but is something that affects the United States as well, to counter the notion that human rights happens elsewhere, outside its borders. In this instance, we believed a music video would deliver a more powerful message, especially as it drew on historical movements in the American past, rather than interviews or a short PSA.

At the end of the day, the way the content is delievered is dependent on two things - the storytelling, and the editing. While editing as a technical skill can be mastered, the storytelling is a vital aspect, and finding those contradictions in stories, and the stories that are not known is invaluable. The second aspect is distribution which is another theme altogether!

Heres a good link to a storytelling tips.


Audience Studies

Hey, thanks Madhuri.

I like the notion of catering to as large of an audience as possible through intermediality. That ensures that lots of different kinds of people are reached through different methods and tastes. It spreads itself out for maximum impact. But what about campaigns that are more limited? The work that Breakthrough is doing with immigration is extensive and seems like a very long term effort. What I'm wondering is how you would operate under more stymied conditions? When you can only produce one or two forms of media for a given issue (because of any number of constraints), how do you coordinate the audience with the material? Do you hold focus groups to to find out more about your audiences tastes, perceptions and knowledge about an issue? Then after you've completed your work, do you have run it by test audiences to gauge how people would react once you release it? Basically, how much interaction do you have with the intended audience throughout the production of the material?

Brandon Boat, New Tactics Intern

Audience Studies

Madhuri Mohindar, Breakthrough

I think using focus groups and test audiences before and after creating videos is fantastic, but it is an expensive process. But even if one figures out effective messaging that resonate best with audiences, and then incorporates that into videos and other projects, then maybe each product doesnt need to be individually tested.

So for example, we have seen over again at Breakthrough, that the lack of due process and human rights affecting immigrants is something that resonates deeply with our audiences. We produce a lot of short videos, psa, and music videos around the issue with this messaging, but also other products such as a video game titled ICED, I Can End Deportation, that used audience studies more extensively.

The video game is free and downloadable from We launched ICED (a play on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department) in February 2008, and close to 100,000 people have already played the game. You can play to become a citizen and see how current immigration laws on detention and deportation deny due process and human rights.

The game was created as a collaborative initiative coordinated by Breakthrough, various community-based organizations, high school teachers and more than a hundred students from across high schools and after-school programs in New York City. So we used students (our audience) from the very start to inform the process of creating the game. We also beta tested the game with students at various stages to receive their feedback. Also, we encourage players to fill up the online pre- and post-surveys, so we could analyze attitude changes before and after the game.

So depending on the scale and budget, speaking to your audience and getting their opinions and the right messaging is key to a successful project.

Re: Audience Studies

Hi Brandon,

We take a couple of steps to ensure that videos are a fit for their intended audience. One step early on in the process is to circulate a simplifed version of the 'video action plan' for the video to peers and allies who know the intended audiences well (particularly when we or our partners may have had less experience working with a particular audiences). We ask them to comment on the planned story, messaging, choices of voices and 'characters', and to give tips on how to reach our audiences at the right time and place. That way we're drawing on collective wisdom. For example on videos like Shoot on Sight, produced with our partners Burma Issues we worked with them to circulate a simple set of video action plan questions to groups working on Burma who might use the video in lobbying or solidarity organizing, and tried to incorporate their feedback into the production and edits - for example, using some clear graphic imagery to make sure viewers understood the gravity of what was going on, having a lead role played by an older woman interviewee as one that would be sympathetic to viewers etc, and linking to regional initiatives and spokespeople on the situations to ensure useability in regional lobbying.

Then later on we'll share rough and fine cuts with our allies, along with clear tips on what we need feedback on (it's important to remember that if you're working with people who have not had experience creating video they may not know what to expect at different stages of production). So at the rough cut stage we'll be asking if the messaging is clear for the audience, the right characters, the call to action resonant and the narrative direction not going down cul-de-sacs; and we'll remind people not to worry too much about audio, subtitling and the finer points of editing. We don't necessarily do rough or fine cut screenings with intended audiences - particularly since if you're working with decision-maker audiences you may have a one-shot to have an impact. For community audiences or solidarity activist audiences it would be a good idea to do test screenings and its a lot easier to facilitate in these settings.

Its key also to secure feedback on screenings - a simple form provided to screening coordinators will usually do. That's because particularly nowadays we're looking at videos being used at different stages of a campaign - so you can learn progressively how your target audiences responds to particular aspects of your video advocacy.

Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

Storying telling as healing and advocacy

Hello All,

I was wondering if I could encourage people to talk about ways to use storytelling to promote human rights.  I am working on a research proposal for a fellowship to study this topic and I was wondering if I could get some feedback from professionals...

 There is obviously an aspect of video advocacy that is meant to inform the public on an issue and hopefully move them to action, but what about using the actual storytelling itself to promote healing in a community? Have you found that giving someone an outlet to tell their stories has also given them an outlet to heal? Also, does collecting stories from people in a community that has been broken in one way or another and then sharing these with the people of that community promote reconciliation? This is similar to the context of a truth and reconciliation commission, but I feel that using media such as video can also help begin the healing process in a similar way. Any thoughts?

Alexa, New Tactics Intern 


Topic locked