The role of media in shaping our understanding of Trafficking in Human Beings

A panel discussion on the role of media in shaping the public understanding of Trafficking in Human Beings was organized on 24 October with journalist students in Stockholm, by the Council of the Baltic Sea States and Södertörn University.

The event was organized in Stockholm for the fourth time and takes place within the CBSS project THALIA, which intends to explore the role of mass media and journalism when reporting on issues of human trafficking. The event was attended by 65 students of journalism from Södertörn University and thanks to the THALIA project, more than 400 students of journalism in the Baltic Sea Region have now participated in similar panel discussions on the topic.

The panel consisted of experts with a renowned experience in working with or reporting on human trafficking issues.

Maria Ridderstedt, Journalist at Sveriges Radio, encouraged the students to take on the issue of human trafficking in their future journalistic work but highlighted that it is a difficult topic and that those victims affected by it must be respected and listened to. Moreover, as a journalist covering human trafficking issues she makes sure she is well informed about the topic and she aims at giving a voice to those subjected to this crime, while taking into account that victims should be approached only when they conclude that they are ready to talk to media and that their safety is not compromised.

Karin Gyllenring, Lawyer and founder of Asylbyrån, noted that the increased human trafficking coverage in Swedish media can result in practical outcomes that benefit exploited persons. She mentioned several examples where migrant workers risking deportation in the end received the assistance they were entitled to as victims of human trafficking, thanks to journalists highlighting their stories. She underlined that compassionate journalism not only informs the public about different phenomenon’s but can also have a positive and crucial impact for the most exploited ones in our societies who may have difficulties in making their voices heard.

Mats Paulsson, Senior adviser at the Swedish Gender Equality Agency and former head of the anti-trafficking unit at the Swedish Police Authority in Gothenburg, explained his experiences in dealing with human trafficking cases that have been highlighted in the media and noted that although there are still challenges in the media reporting, journalists in Sweden do their best in being accurate when covering human trafficking issues. He mentioned older examples of reporting which one time even resulted in a victims identity being revealed in the country of origin. Not respecting the sensitive and dangerous nature of the human trafficking crime can result in immediate risks for the victims.

Ninna Mörner, Editor at Baltic Worlds and former head of the Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings, mentioned several occasions during which she was approached by journalists wishing to interview victims of human trafficking. Her general reflection was that there is a difficult balance that needs to be understood when it comes to interviewing victims. The overall goal should always be to not re-traumatize the victims when having them tell their story.

Madeleine Sundell, Lawyer and anti-trafficking coordinator at the Swedish Salvation Army, experienced that journalists in general express a larger interest in the projects carried out by the NGOs on human trafficking for sexual exploitation than on labour exploitation.  One possible explanation for this is that there is in general more awareness in the Swedish society on sexual exploitation, and more specifically prostitution. She did not an increase in the coverage of labour exploitation in recent years however and reminded the students that human trafficking is an important crime to cover as it impacts victims severely and that it is a human rights issue. 

The THALIA project is funded by the Swedish Institute and CBSS Project Support Facility.