‘If you are a media worker or a person whose work involves contact with the media, how do you deal with the issue of trafficking in an ethical way? Trafficking stories often involve such appalling conditions and events that they are real attention grabbers. They can appeal to those working with trafficked people as a way to dramatise the issue and raise public concern. Media workers know that they draw readers and viewers, but at the same time, most would be cautious about doing anything that would endanger interviewees.’

‘Covering Trafficking’, a TWC2 briefing on the media and trafficking, was held on the morning of Tuesday, 26 June 2012 at The Heritage Place. Its purpose was to consider how media workers can cover trafficking issues in ways that inform the public accurately while respecting the rights of people who have been trafficked.

It was pointed out that coverage currently focuses on trafficking into sexual exploitation, but that the main form of trafficking worldwide is for labour exploitation, which TWC2 believes also occurs in Singapore: the case of men recruited in Cambodia and the Philippines and forced to work as fishermen on boats that put into harbour in Singapore is an obvious example.

Journalists often want to find supplementary material on a story that comes up, and personal experiences can bring into sharp focus issues that, reported in general terms, might not engage readers’ interests, but in the case of people who are trafficked, particularly into sexual exploitation, there’s a need to be very sensitive to the needs of trafficked people – not to further traumatise them or to expose them to danger. Special care needs to be taken.

Choices of words, images and headlines also count; anything that tends to make potentially trafficked people themselves look undeserving of sympathy or, on the other hand, simply portrays them as objects of pity with nothing in common with the readers of their story, such as motivations to seek a better life, should be avoided.

The briefing was presented by TWC2’s immediate past president, John Gee, and was attended by 31 people, including six journalists and five media students. Most of the other participants were volunteers or employees who have dealings with the media. The session ended with a discussion on some of the issues raised. An information pack was distributed that included a list of resources that can be useful to media workers. It showed where to find advice on trafficking indicators and on how a trafficked person might be interviewed in an ethical way.


Although the event was not intended to generate media coverage, a short report appeared in My Paper:

NGO: More to be done to combat human trafficking

By Verena Lim

my paper
Wednesday, Jun 27, 2012

More action needs to be taken quickly by the Government to combat human trafficking in Singapore, a migrant-worker rights group urged yesterday.

Transient Workers Count Too said at a media briefing that the country’s current law omits parts of the definition for human trafficking, as spelt out in a 2000 United Nations (UN) protocol.

The protocol looks into preventing, suppressing and punishing trafficking in persons.

Mr John Gee, the immediate past president of the migrant-workers’ non-governmental organisation (NGO), said: “These (trafficking) issues can’t be tackled by legal means unless they are recognised in law.”

He said that once the various forms of human trafficking, involving coercion and deception, are recognised and the principle expressed in the UN protocol is adopted, “that gives a legal framework for treating trafficked people as victims, rather than primarily as people who stay in Singapore illegally”.

He noted that public agencies have taken part of the protocol only as an operational guideline for anti-trafficking work.

On why he thinks the UN protocol’s trafficking definition has not yet been adopted here, Mr Gee said: “The Government would be wary of opening the gates to claims that a substantial proportion of migrant workers here are trafficked, which might have economic consequences and might be seen to reflect badly on Singapore.”

Singapore remains a Tier 2 country in the latest Trafficking In Persons Report by the United States Department of State, released last week. Tier 2 countries refer to countries that do not fully comply with minimum international standards of protecting migrant workers from forced labour, or other forms of trafficking in persons.

In response to last year’s edition of the US report, Singapore’s Inter-agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons launched the National Plan of Action in March.

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, said in March: “The (plan)…will strengthen current policies and processes, as well as develop new ones to address gaps.”

On the plan, Mr Gee said: “A good start has been made, but the process of implementing the (plan) is rather long.

“The aim should be to bring in a steady flow of changes as problem areas are studied and resolved.”