Media and Trafficking in Human Beings Guidelines was authored by the Ethical Journalism Network as part of a project funded by the European Union and implemented by an international consortium led by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD). © 2017. Republished with permission. 

Good Practice: Starter Questions

These questions will help journalists to identify cases of trafficking. If “yes” is the answer to any of the following, then tread carefully and use the sources in these guidelines to seek advice.

1. Has the person I’m dealing with been forced, whether through violence,psychological bullying or other forms of control, into this situation?

2. Are they victims of violence and intimidation?

3. Were they forced to pay money?

4. Have they been subject to coercion by someone in a stronger situation and with power over them?

In general terms, journalists and editors should avoid the traps of misinformation,false news from social networks and propaganda from vested interest. They can best do this if they:

Stick to the Facts, Be Sceptical about Statistics. Numbers make stories, but they can be deceptive. Because of the secretive and hidden nature of trafficking, modern slavery and forced labour it is not possible to get accurate headcounts. There is a constant danger of fabricated data. Journalists should verify and investigate claims involving numbers; they must fact-check statistics and, when necessary, issue “health warnings” to the public about unverified information.

Remember, most reliable estimates come from the International Labour Organisation and other international bodies mentioned in these guidelines but even these estimates and how they are reached should be subject to journalistic scrutiny.

Counter misconceptions. A common misunderstanding caused by media focus on sex and sensationalism is that human trafficking is mostly about sexual exploitation and primarily happens to women and girls. In fact, most trafficking concerns the trade in forced labour rather than sexual exploitation.Sex trafficking (also of men and boys) isan important problem to combat, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of also focusing on labour trafficking.

Be positive and point to solutions. It’s important to focus on the resilience and recovery of people who are victims.People who are survivors tell compelling stories. Presenting a positive and balanced outlook builds trust of the audience in what you say. In your background work examine policy issues and question how these can improved.

Follow the Money. The trafficking industry and modern slavery provides forced labour that leads to cheaper goods for everyone. It is a global industry and requires investigation at home and abroad.

Some excellent examples of investigative work have been produced – such as the BBC’s Humans for Sale documentary or a similar programme from ARD in Germany, both broadcast in 2017.

Media can also examine how local low grade services (car-washes, nail bars,construction sites) have business models built upon cheap labour. Are these potentially trafficked persons? Journalists can follow the money and look for slavery-tainted raw materials. They can show their audience how we all might be connected to human trafficking. It will get people’s attention.

Build hope. It’s easy for the public to think of people who are victims of trafficking or in forced labour as powerless individuals who are permanently damaged.That isn’t always true. Journalism that highlights human resilience and tells the story of how people are able to rebuild their lives out of the tragedy of modern slavery and forced labour tells a different story


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