February 13, 2024

NOTE: TV Klan was initially selected as Troll of the Month, but after additional internal consultations, the RDN team has recognised the following:

The coverage of TV Klan, even though still sensationalistic, misleading and unprofessional in the headline and deserves to be treated as harmful speech, does not meet the criteria for the Troll of the Month. The content itself rather transferred the statements made by the police. Therefore, our team will choose a new Troll for January this week.

At Reporting Diversity Network, we are working hard to ensure we are fair and avoid any mistakes when analysing and criticising the work of the media.

We sincerely apologise for any confusion it may have caused.

The rest of the article below is corrected to be more precise in describing the case.

At the end of January, a new case of human trafficking involving three minors was reported in the local media in Albania. However, most of the media outlets referred to the minors as prostitutes, rather than victims of trafficking.

There are a number of concerns about  how the media covers issues of human rights abuses, such as human trafficking, particularly where minors are concerned. Referring to individuals, especially if they are minors, as ‘prostitutes’ implies a degree of choice or agency in participating in commercial sex work. This is far from the truth and reality in the context of trafficking, which is illegal and always involves coercion and lack of free will. In addition, TV Klan used a very problematic image to illustrate the article.

It is also important to distinguish between the legal frameworks surrounding sex work and the serious issue of human trafficking. While sex work, often referred to as ‘prostitution’, may be considered illegal and subject to criminal sanctions in many juridictions, human trafficking is universally condemned as a crime. Victims of trafficking deserve not only legal protection but also legal assistance.

Finally, there is the important difference between stigma and sensitivity. The term ‘prostitute’ often carries a strong social stigma due to various social norms and personal perceptions surrounding the issue. Using the term ‘victim of human trafficking’ acknowledges the abuse and exploitation that has been endured and addresses the issue with greater sensitivity and understanding. The headline “Girls were staying in the hotels, boys would bring them clients/ The network of the prostitution is destroyed! ignores the critical issue at hand—the exploitation of three underage victims of trafficking. This led to harmful discourses on social media questioning the ‘life choices’ that led the girls to become ‘prostitutes’, implying they had a choice in becoming victims of trafficking.

The media has a role and a responsibility to report accurately and factually. Unethical and unprofessional reporting can act as a catalyst for the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Words carry meaning and how we choose to explain and report events has a major impact on those who receive the information. As a primary source of information, the media must carefully consider how they frame events, as the misuse of terminology can distort reality, as this incident demonstrates.

Journalists and media professionals can benefit from using Manual for reporting trafficking on women (in Albanian language) produced in 2015, supported by UN Women Albania, as well as, guidelines for reporting on human trafficking (in Serbian language), produced by ASTRA, an organisation dedicated to eradicating all forms of exploitation and trafficking in human beings, especially women and children. ASTRA is based in Serbia and regularly researches media coverage of human trafficking in the country.

Illustration: BNP Design Studio/Shutterstock.com