Kebab Kings: Fixed rig cameras …and the very grey area of Consent.

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EXCLUSIVE: If you bought yourself a kebab in inner Sydney or Collingwood last December you might want to check that your private conversation isn’t being broadcast as primetime entertainment in the SBS series Kebab Kings.

Welcome to the brave new world of ‘fixed rig’ observational TV where covert cameras and microphones remove the immediate need for camera crews in order to observe uninhibited behaviour. It’s a genre on the rise internationally, such as UK series The Family, 24 Hours in A&E, Educating Yorkshire and The Fried Chicken Shop.

SBS series Kebab Kings put cameras into George Street’s Oz Turk and Collingwood’s Smith Kebabs last December, filming both staff and customers for its three part series.

At best, the show captures a multicultural melting point of colourful ‘east meets west’ exchanges and shows the extraordinary lengths hardworking Turkish, Syrian and Indian-Australians go to sustain a small business. At worst, it is loaded with bad behaviour of drunken, abusive, uncouth, racist Australians on display in the wee hours of the morning.

While the filming methodology may be technically progressive, the area of consent is a different question altogether and differs significantly from programmes that are comprehensive in sign-off from the subject before broadcast.

“One person described it as a ‘hidden camera’ show, which isn’t true at all.”

Executive producer Michael Cordell told TV Tonight that Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder had plenty of experience in the observational genre. For Kebab Kings they endeavoured to turn the shops into ‘public spaces’ diminishing the expectation of privacy on the part of customers.

“We absolutely take all these issues of consent and access very seriously. We’ve been making observational filmmaking or documentaries for a long time. Bondi Rescue in particular throws up all kinds of issues not unfamiliar with this, so we’re pretty familiar with dealing with it,” he said.

“Fundamentally what we aimed to do was turn those two shops into a public space. We had very clear signage both inside and outside the shop. One person described it as a ‘hidden camera’ show, which isn’t true at all. The cameras were really obvious, we didn’t make any attempt to hide them. The microphones were almost embarrassingly-obvious at times.

“Our aim was to turn them into public spaces where people wouldn’t have an expectation of privacy.”

Kebab CJZ

A filming notice was placed at the entrance of both shops: ‘CJZ is currently filming a documentary in these premises. Audio and images in the area are likely to be recorded.’ Cameras were installed inside the shop while microphones were placed inside fruit bowls and take-away containers, pot plants and table-top Christmas trees to capture audio.

“There were signs across the counter right near the cash register, cameras sitting just above the menus,” he explained.

“So we felt the signage in the shop was clear enough for people to be aware of what was happening.

“There were very clear Sennheiser mikes poking out of lunchboxes on the main counters. We weren’t relying on people to necessarily see every microphone or camera but we felt on balance (with) the signage we had and the visibility of a lot of the cameras ….and if they happened to see the Sennheisers on the counter, then on balance that was enough for them to know a film production was taking place in the shop.”

“There are some situations where it is a little grey”

In the hours of footage that ensued producers got an eyeful: everything from customers discussing private parts, sexual desires, drug use, mental health, to drunken abuse, exposing themselves, unfiltered racism, personal threats and phone conversations. Not all of them were approached for individual consent.

“There are some situations where it is a little grey,” Cordell acknowledged.

“Being filmed in a public space you have no legal right to privacy.

“Unless you’re defaming someone or unless there is some other law you’re breaking, there is no law around privacy.

“So it’s an interesting situation when you’ve got a drunk person standing outside a kebab shop behaving badly. But if they take a 1 metre step inside that shop where there a lots of people and it’s still a public space, is that really any different? They are the areas to me that are sometimes a little bit grey. We make a judgement call about whether it’s appropriate or not to film them.”

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Producers observing upstairs or in the shops decide whom to follow-up for further interviews with camera crews or to obtain consent. But there are some situations, such as a near-brawl about to explode, where sending in a producer would be dangerous to staff.

“There are times when you don’t feel it is appropriate to screen a story or if you do you de-identify someone. They are ethical and moral decisions we often make on our own, not forced to make by law,” he continued.

“There were plenty of scenes we decided to blur a story…. but generally we relied on the notion of the kebab shop being turned into a public space.

“In strictly legal terms if we’ve created a public space and we have the permission of the shop owner to film on their property and we have signage that makes it clear people are filmed, then unless we are defaming someone, unless somehow we’re in contempt of court, then legally it’s fairly clear we could probably use most of that footage. We make separate ethical decisions where we feel there is something we shouldn’t use for mental health reasons or whatever, but they are decisions we make on an ethical basis, not on a legal one.”

“We’ve shot plenty of backpackers doing crazy things”

Under ACMA’s Privacy Guidelines for Broadcasters, a person’s seclusion may be intruded upon (including in a public space) if the invasion is considered more than “fleeting.” In order for a breach to have occurred a complaint must be laid after the broadcast. Kebab Kings has pixellated a handful of its subjects, but it also incorporates a high number of backpackers -especially in the Sydney store- who may be oblivious to the fact their late-night antics are being broadcast in Australia 12 months after the event.

“There was a Welsh backpacker who was particularly drunk and behaving badly outside the shop, then came 2 metres inside the shop and continued behaving badly. So that’s a case where I think ‘buyer beware’ is probably fair enough,” Cordell insisted.

“While I’m happy to defend everything we included in the series, whether he lives here or not or whether there is a reduced chance of him contacting us or not, I think we’re on very safe ground using that material. As uncomfortable as it might be for him we’re in our rights to use it.

“We’ve shot plenty of backpackers doing crazy things and we haven’t got release forms for many of them. At Bondi there is probably less opportunity for them to know that they might be on camera and make a decision about it.”

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The Privacy Guidelines also indicate special care must be taken in the use of material concerning a a person 16 years or under or a vulnerable person. So wouldn’t someone intoxicated be considered ‘vulnerable?’

“A drunk can be a vulnerable person. I think you need to make a judgement decision case by case,” he admitted.

“If someone is capable of walking into a shop, ordering food, paying money, then we feel we made it clear enough in the shop that they could well be filmed.”

Whether consenting to filming was clear enough to every intoxicated customer, TV Tonight understands it wasn’t clear to some industry professionals who didn’t realise they were being filmed when entering the Collingwood store.

Masterchef was filming in Melbourne and I think there were a few situations where film industry people were in the shop. There was a woman who became aware she was filmed and we decided not to use that footage. Not because she was a television person, but because of personal reasons she made us aware of,” Cordell said.

“I’m not sure what date it was in the scheme of things, or how she became aware.”

The series also had to rework its narrative after Oz Turk owners Fatima and Nafi sold the premises after initial casting. But CJZ turned a potential negative into a positive, with ‘handover’ to young owners Fadi and Rami becoming a major storyline.

“After we cast the show they decided, completely unrelated to what we were doing, to sell the shop. Fatima wasn’t coaxed back but there was always going to be a hand-over period with the new owners. In fact it ended up being a better storyline for the show. It wasn’t what was going to happen originally. Sometimes serendipity is more entertaining than what you might imagine was planned.”

Having Fatima as part of the series was essential, given her ‘motherly’ disposition to staff and customers alike. She gives the series its heart amid its robust fly-on-the-wall parade.

“Fatima and Nafi welcome the homeless and the mentally ill inside the shop. We spent a lot of time with those people outside the shop, went to their house sometimes,” said Cordell.

“The bad behaviour was a small minority”

Similarly in Melbourne, Mustafa and wife Zareena display great acceptance of gay customers despite being at odds with their Muslim religion.

“My overwhelming impression was that whatever colour, creed or religion, most people behaved really well. The bad behaviour was a small minority and not restricted to race or colour,” Cordell noted.

“So there are some wonderful scenes in there of anglo-saxons behaving very well and of ethnic background not behaving well. Certainly it was a question we were interested in looking at: how do ‘mainstream Australians’ –for want of a better term- respond and react to people that run kebab shops? Are they polite? Is there a well-mannered and polite dialogue or are they sometimes condescending and rude?

“We didn’t set out with an agenda but it was certainly something we were keen to observe.

“My overwhelming impression was that most people get on really well. One of the charming things about the series is that it has a lot of warmth and heart and I think it projects a very optimistic view of how Australians get on.”

On that score, fixed rig filmmaking looks set to stay. Consider this your first and last warning.

Kebab Kings concludes 8:30pm Wednesday on SBS.

17 Comments:

  1. “Audio and images in the area are likely to be recorded”. I like the word “likely” being used here. I would imagine the audio and cameras are recording during operating times of these shops…”likely”…what a farce.
    I also believe they will show the worst of peoples behaviour since it makes for good television. I couldn’t imagine they will air a polite person walking in and requesting a Kebab, handing over payment with please and thank you’s.

  2. I find it interesting that no one has mentioned the use of paid actors or professional comedians in this show. I know of at least 2 local comedians who have openly discussed (on a podcast) their experiences of filming this show last year. With this in mind, it does make you wonder how much of this show is “real” and how much is staged or influences by the producers.

  3. I would interpret that signage to mean there’s a crew inside with recognisable cameras and boom mics, and if you can’t see them then filming is on a break. I’d also expect the signage to be clearer on the setup, and say “If you do not want to be filmed please let the crew know” like they do with ‘Border Security’.

  4. “But if they take a 1 metre step inside that shop where there a lots of people and it’s still a public space, is that really any different?” – Surprised to see that comment as that’s the whole point. If it wasn’t any different they wouldn’t need the signs at all. I think the big issue is whether or not the consent is always genuine. I wouldn’t actively look for signs in a kebab shop because I don’t expect to be filmed in a kabab shop. Also do they know what type of footage is being filmed. “Documentary” now days could mean film project, youtube, private footage. They should specifically say television show.

  5. Early in the article you mention “racist Australians”. I’ve seen the first two episodes and my memory is that the harsher comments were coming from British tourists rather than Australians.

  6. Secret Squïrrel

    Perfectly competent people, unaffected by drugs or alcohol regularly don’t notice static things like signs because they are just part of the environmental visual pollution that the brain automatically filters out. How many times do people try to open a door the wrong way when there is a sign that “clearly” says to either push or pull? Most people will walk right past that “Filming notice” without even seeing it.

    As for cameras and mikes, again static objects in dull matt colours that most people will miss. The broadcast footage shows that some cameras were mounted in corners near the ceiling where most people won’t notice or assume that they’re local security cameras. As for not hiding the mikes – if you don’t consider placing them *inside* fruit bowls and pot plants to be hiding them.

    Let’s just gloss over whether drunk people can give informed consent.

        • And a big thanks from me too – definitely an interesting article & topic that is too easy to overlook.

          Like those mics in the fruit bowl and box, sometimes what’s “almost embarrassingly-obvious” needs to be pointed out. Thanks for being a big red arrow 😉

          (Spent all morning trying to write a comment that didn’t degenerate into a rant. This’ll have to do…)

  7. Yes, definitely some grey areas involved.
    Half the people entering the takeaways are that p*ssed or off their faces that they wouldn’t know what day it is, let alone comprehend small signage and microphones around the shops.
    Still, it makes for highly entertaining telly and Fatima, Ufuk and Mustafa in particular are wonderful, warm, funny personalities.

  8. barrington bumbaclaart

    The shop in Melbourne had a door which closed. To me this clearly makes it a private space.

    I would like to see a screen shot of the supposed signs by the cash register. From what I could tell there were no clearly visible signs inside the shops.

    I would also like to see a screen shot showing the context of the sign outside the shop, not a big close up. Was it placed to be clearly visible to everyone entering at all times during filming? It looks to me like it was merely A4 sized and placed only on one side of the entrance meaning it could be easily missed.

  9. If CJZ think its a “public” place then they won’t mind me coming in with a camera and filming the customers and staff inside the shop then? The second that a competing news or current affair crew or independant documentary producer try to film inside, you would see exactly how “public” that space really is.

  10. They might “legally” be able to film this, but “morally” i think it is totally wrong.
    A sign in the window does not work for me…. I don’t care how big the cameras are inside. These people are mostly drunk and would be unable legally to give consent in any other situation.
    And since when was a “shop” a public space? Can I go behind the counter? Get my own food? Use the toilet? Are they trying to say it’s public because there are no doors? If I walk into a bank is that public space? A cafe? Where do u draw the line?
    You can’t record conversations in NSW covertly (ask Ben Fordham) so how does this differ?
    Bondi rescue is completely different and I don’t really know how they can compare the shows. Visible crew and equipment.

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