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A Former Extremist's Bill of Media Rights. Two hands reaching towards each other from the shadows towards the light.

By Patrick Riccards, CEO of Life After Hate

Anyone who has ever turned on a television, watched a YouTube video, or clicked on a news headline knows that stories of “trauma porn” sell. Building off the old media saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Today, we all love to hear tales of people at their absolute worst. Society loves to judge people based on their experiences at the lowest moments of their lives, using the struggles of others to make them feel just a little bit better about their own existence.

At Life After Hate, we reject this notion. As advocates of “compassion with accountability,” we know that our clients must be given the time, support, and space to disengage and deradicalize from lives of violent far-right extremism successfully. While many individuals, from media to academic researchers to law enforcement to the general public, are interested in hearing directly from those exiting violent extremist groups, we know that our decisions and recommendations made to our clients should align with our commitment to the safety of society, the client’s wellbeing, and exit from violent far-right extremism. That is why we decline all requests to speak with Exiting individuals until they have completed the process.

Such hard rules obviously make Life After Hate unpopular with the media and filmmakers searching for a sizzling story. Still, it is the only way we can ensure that individuals successfully exit from lives of violent extremism. We know there are a growing number of interested parties who want to hear their stories. Some pursue well-meaning desires to learn better how one falls into a life of violent extremism or to learn more about why one chooses to leave an extremist organization and what life is like now that they have exited. Yet some simply seek to judge a Former, relishing in hearing one share the worst moment of one’s life as a form of emotional catnip.

Life After Hate’s philosophy of compassion with accountability is easy, but much harder to embrace, follow, and demand. As part of this commitment, Life After Hate advises its Formers on when to tell their stories, how best to communicate their stories, what to expect by telling their public narratives, and how to ensure they are treated with the compassion and respect they deserve. 

At Life After Hate, we teach the importance of understanding the consequences of one’s actions. These lessons are critical when a Former is considering working with the media. And they translate into several key rights that any Former should request before publicly telling his or her story.

Former Extremist’s Bill of Media Rights

A Former must be clear on what time commitment they are making.

Before a word is uttered on camera, a Former should be clear on how long such an interview will be (often a few hours for a TV program or several days for a documentary), over what period of time will the media be made available, and how much of that footage will be used in the final product. If one spends 10 or 12 hours telling a story in front of the camera, they have the right to know if the intention is that an hour of footage will be used or if three or four minutes of carefully chosen statements will be used.

A Former must understand how the interview will be used.

Is it for a documentary film or a short news segment? Is the Former the focus of the piece, or are they providing context to a larger issue? Will quotations from the interview or photos taken during the shoot be used for promotion? What identifying traits will be used to identify the Former? All of these are important questions to answer before a Former sees themself as the “spokesperson” for a media piece. Final consent belongs to the Former.

A Former must know who owns the rights to the interview.

Does a filmmaker intend to sell the footage, or even the final piece, to a distributor? Does the interviewer have the right to sell the content to another media outlet? Can another organization buy the footage to use in fundraising or promotional campaigns? A Former should only engage in an interview process where they are comfortable and clear on who will use their words and images.

A Former must understand if the interview is being used for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Is the interview intended to serve an educational or public education purpose? Will it be used to sell advertising or to provide “sizzle” to a media outlet’s promotional efforts? A Former has invested significantly in changing their life. They have the right to consider if their story is used to provide monetary profit to others. 

A Former must be clear on potential payment.

While some Formers may think they can achieve financial benefits from telling their stories, few legitimate media outlets will provide payments for an interview beyond travel and related expenses. A Former needs to ask how an individual may use their story if they are willing to pay for it.

A Former must articulate how long their specific story can be told.

We all evolve as individuals, and this is particularly true of those who leave violent extremism, begin their lives as Formers, and then move beyond. How one tells their story two years after exiting may differ vastly from how one tells it ten years later. A Former should ensure they know how long they will allow the current version of their story to be shared and have it written into any agreement before approval.

A Former must ask if they can see the finished product.

While interviewees rarely get the opportunity to edit or request changes to a produced interview, they certainly have the right to ask how they are portrayed in the final product. If one does not ask to see the end result, they will never be able to see it. Formers cannot control how their stories are told if they do not do everything possible to ensure they are treated with respect.

A Former must demand transparency.

We all must trust those we work with, particularly those with whom we share some of our most traumatic moments. That’s why a Former needs to expect honesty and transparency from the first phone call to the final production. If at any point one does not feel the interviewer is being transparent, they should have a right to end the interview and request that the footage not be used.