Posts tagged ‘media’

Lies, damn lies and statistics

One of the main tasks of PLRI is to improve the evidence base on sex work. We spend a lot of time grappling with existing research to try and understand its validity and the ethics of its manufacture. Understanding research and communicating it honestly and appropriately is not always easy. Sometimes research findings can be misunderstood and sometimes they are wilfully misrepresented to support a normative position.

A lively exchange yesterday on the message boards of the Guardian, a UK newspaper, has brought some of these tensions out into the open. The article that attracted all the interest, The truth of trafficking, was featured in the print edition of the newspaper. Articles on this topic appear in the Guardian on an almost weekly basis stimulated, in part, by proposed law reform that would criminalise the clients of sex workers who are ‘controlled for another person’s gain’.

It is not unusual for online media coverage of sex work related issues to set the message boards alight. Often they attract a strange breed of commentator. It is not unusual to find legitimate comment crowded out by remarks that are irrelevant, ill informed and at worst abusive.

What is striking about the interventions made by readers in response to this article – beyond how relevant and well argued their points are – is how they centre on the use/misuse of evidence. Specifically the assertion made by the author that, ‘In Britain, it is estimated that 80% of the 80,000 women in prostitution are foreign nationals, most of whom have been trafficked.’ (more…)


03/04/2009 at 16:54 1 comment

Sex work research and the media

Women from VAMP engage with the media

The true test of development research is whether people use it: for reference, for influence and, most importantly, for change. Too much research stays within the confines of the academic community that produces it, and is locked away in reports and articles that are only read by a handful of specialists. Many research communication specialists advise using the print and broadcast media. The media can be a ‘knowledge multiplier’ – allowing you to reach a much larger audience. 

Downsides of working with the media

However  working with the media to communicate your research is not without its risks and downsides. Findings may be challenged and critiqued in a way that researchers are not comfortable with, or they may be ‘coopted’ and misused by others to pursue other agendas. Also, journalists may not be best placed to judge the ethics that underpin research or its relevance and quality.

Recent media debates in the UK on the criminalisation of demand have run into just these problems. In one case in the UK Guardian the source for the proportion of women working in UK brothels who are trafficked from elsewhere was challenged leading to a correction and an article from the Reader’s Editor explaining why. The research methods used in a piece of research from the Poppy Project called Big Brothel, and the way it was promoted in the media, prompted UK academics to publish a critique in which they state:

Due to considerable media attention and exposure given to the report, there is the danger of simplistic misrepresentations impacting upon very important social and public policy issues. At this particular juncture in the history of regulation/management of the sex industry we need rigorous research that offers clarity and knowledge about the complexities involved in order to develop social policy for the 21st century.

Trying to get it right

Whether they mean to or not the media ultimately shape public opinion. Ignoring the media is one option but engaging to raise standards may be more productive. Guides have been produced by sex worker rights organisations to try and overcome the problem of unethical and inaccurate media reporting. For example, the Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia website explains how to run media sensitisation workshops and has a factsheet of Tips for Sex Workers Giving Media Interviews.  Given that accuracy, fairness and timeliness are the most important aspects of sound, credible journalism the PLRI will be open to this communication mechanism but mindful of the challenges.

12/12/2008 at 19:25 Leave a comment

Law reform in South Africa

A recent article on deals with decriminalising sex work in South Africa and how it relates to public health.

Some of the arguments contained in the article relate to a policy brief ‘Sex work, HIV/AIDS and the socio-legal context in South Africa’, prepared by Marlise Richter, commissioned by the Reproductive Health & HIV Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand in October 2008.

The article states:

A recent study conducted in Cape Town found approximately 1 500 sex workers, according to Jankelowitz. “In the 1990’s it was estimated that there were 10 000 sex workers in Johannesburg, but it is unclear where this estimation comes from.”

The lack of reliable figures seems to be typical of a wider lack of engagement with the issue of sex work among policy-makers and researchers. Apart from some non-government organisations and research units there is still very little being done – both in terms of research and health interventions tailored to the needs of sex workers.

The issue of the decriminalisation of sex work for the 2010 Fifa World Cup has grabbed the headlines, not always for positive reasons. Some have argued that it would lead to an increase in human trafficking. These fears were also expressed in the lead up to the World Cup in Germany although there is research from the International Organisation for Migration commissioned by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) to show that this was not the case.

It appears policy reforms towards decriminalisation in South Africa have stalled due to bureaucratic red-tape.

Read more…

04/12/2008 at 19:46 Leave a comment


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