Slander and Libel
Slander: When a person has made a statement that is untrue and could/has harm/ed another persons reputation.
Libel: Where a person has published a work that is false causing harm to another person or their reputation.
An example for slanderous documentaries is a documentary by Umida Akhmedova called 'The Burden of Virginity'. This is a documentary about the difficulties and problems that newly married women face in the central Asian state Uzbekistan. Akhmedova was convicted of "offence through mass media" due to the fact that the Tashkent experts said that the film was "offensive for the Uzbek nation". Looking at 3 years imprisonment Umida Akhmedova was released under amnesty due to the 18th anniversary of Uzbek independence.
A second case of slander is in Michael Moore's film "Bowling For Columbine" where he interviewed James Nichols, the brother of the the Oklahoma City Bomber Terry Nichols. He was filmed showing Moore firearms he kept underneath his pillow. James Nichols agreed to the interview thinking it was for Moore to learn more about the Oklahoma City Bombings. Conducting a three hour interview with Moore, Nichols was not shy to speak his anti-government mind as cameras rolled on. Nichols stated in the interview that "If people find out how they've been ripped off and enslaved in this country by the government, by the powers to be. They will revolt with anger, merciless anger. There'll be blood running in the street. When the government turns too radical, it is your duty to overthrow it." In the film Michael Moore told the audience that the Nichols brothers had previously made practice bombs on the farm where James Nichols lives and followed with "but the feds didn't have the goods on James, so the charges were dropped." For this Nichols decided to file a $100-million-plus lawsuit claiming defamation due to the comments Moore made about him in the film. The case was then dismissed by a U.S district judge saying that Moore's statements were "factual and substantially true."
Ethics: The moral principles that conduct a person’s behavior.
A case of this is one concerning the BBC where they made several documentaries on issues concerning Malaysia. The documentaries where reported to be made on a "low and nominal cost" although the company making the documentaries for the BBC, the FBC, failed to declare that the films were supported by the Malaysian Government and allocated £17 million to carry out a global strategic communications campaign
How documentaries can avoid being slanderous or unethical?
I personally feel that documentaries can be slanderous within good reasoning however I feel it would have to be backed up with the facts first as Michael Moore did in the documentary 'Bowling For Columbine' to avoid being labeled as Slanderous. To avoid being unethical you need to know who your audience is and to be as honest as you can while making the film.