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Should we give a platform to neo-Nazis? Mobeen Azhar talks about the ethics of documentary film making

Mobeen Azhar talking virtually for Leeds Trinity students

Award-winning journalist and film maker Mobeen Azhar told Leeds Trinity students that journalists have a responsibility to facilitate uncomfortable conversations.

At a talk during Journalism and Media week today, Azhar revealed the ethical debates that surround documentary film making – including whether we should give a platform to neo-Nazis.

Azhar, the creator of Bafta-winning docu-series ‘Muslims Like Us’, said that he feels it is his duty to showcase people from all aspects of society, even when he feels their views are “abhorrent”.

He said: “As journalists it is our job, actually, to be able to shine a light on things that make society uncomfortable.”

Azhar has worked alongside contributors ranging from drug dealers to ‘Taliban hunters’ – and he believes documentaries should be a space to hear everyone’s opinions.

“I think the job of any journalist is … to hold a mirror up to society and allow discussions to take place.”

However, Azhar was quick to assure students that all views should be challenged – in fact, he said that you must actively enjoy challenging people’s beliefs in order to make documentaries.

Mobeen Azhar on the ethical debate surrounding platforming neo-Nazis

Azhar’s varied career has led him to meet people from all different walks of life, many of whom he describes as “just not very nice”.

Despite this, Azhar stressed the importance of remaining professional and friendly with every person you meet.

Azhar told Leeds Trinity students that building relationships and maintaining trust is the key to any documentary film maker’s success.

He also said that maintaining a professional outlook stops you from becoming too emotionally involved in an interview – to the point where you may be unable to ask important questions.

But more than this, Azhar believes that building bridges is crucial if we as a society want to move forward collaboratively and improve the world we all live in.

During the filming of ‘Black and White Killing: The Case That Shook America’, Azhar interviewed a Holocaust denier who was promoting neo-Nazism.

Azhar told students: “In that moment… I could have had a ding dong and I’m sure I could have won an argument with him because I like arguing.

“Or you can choose to think… I need to understand how this guy’s come to these conclusions.

“I need to understand what’s happened in this guy’s life.”

This nuanced approach is a running theme in Azhar’s work – including his most recent documentary ‘The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship ’ in which Azhar explores the complicated nature of conservatorships in America.

Azhar believes that journalism is not just about breaking news, but also about highlighting the exploitation of people, and facilitating difficult conversations.

“Real documentary making is about being able to respond to moments.”

What do you think?