NAUWU has decided to take further action to hold The Australian Broadcasting Corporation accountable for their inaccurate and biased media coverage of the Four Corners program which aired on Monday 10th October 2011.
The link to the broadcast can be found here:
NAUWU and the wider sex working communities response to the program can be found here:
NAUWU, its members and other sex workers we have spoken to are outraged by the program because the ABC’s actions have been DAMAGING! We have therefore actioned the complaints process to hold The ABC accountable. By submitting complaints we do not expect an immediate apology as the sex working community were ignored and submissions from peer based organisation to provide The ABC with accurate information rejected.
We feel strongly however that The ABC should at the very least realise the impact of what they’ve done and better, we intend to assist them to realise they need to make amends.
We are also concerned since the program went to air, there has been media from different sources including Channel 10 and print media that follows the same logic, uses the same analogies the Four Corners program did and has sourced Four Corners in their coverage. The ABC went into parntership with FairFax media to initially promote the Four Corners program and this seems to have had a flow on effect to the wider media.
NAUWU submitted a complaint to The ABC and Four Corners outlining just a few of the key issues we had with the program. Please see below for a copy of our initial complaint and the emails that followed between NAUWU and The ABC:
26 Oct 2011
A complaint to 4 Corners
Nothing About Us Without Us is an unfunded, volunteer, loose collective of sex workers who formed to ensure a sex worker voice in maintained in the efforts to keep, defend and create the decriminalisation of sex work in NSW.
We believe your reporting of trafficking for sex work in Australia was unethical, without conscience, against the best interests of migrant workers in Australia, shortsighted and incredibly damaging to the sex worker community in Australia.
1) Police corruption and DIAC harassment of sex workers as a result of your story.
We do not believe that you “uncovered” “trafficking” in the course of your “investigation.”
We believe the incidents alleged to be “trafficking” by you were not actual cases of trafficking. We know that you know that these particular incidents were about as far from trafficking as anything could be in Australia; with the only commonality with actual trafficking cases t in Australia being that they involved individual sex workers of Asian backgrounds on work visas who identify as female. Yet since the 4 Corners program sex workers in a number of jurisdictions have alleged to us that Australian Federal Police are conducting raids on sex worker workplaces asking to find “sex slaves” and “trafficking” — knowing that there is none going on.
Let us rephrase.
We know that corrupt police, allegedly those within the Australian Federal Police, are taking advantage of the media hype and political uncertainty following the 4 Corners “investigation,” to harass, pressure, and conduct spoof raids on premises that they know, as a result of their own intelligence, are not linked to any such activity, but that they know they can get away with because of the momentum as a result of the 4 Corners reporting.
We also know that DIAC have, as a result of your show, taken advantage of the political climate, and moved in on hundreds of workplaces to check and cancel Visa’s if people are even one step out of line with the arbitrary visa conditions under which they are travelling.
Do you understand that we always see a spike in corrupt activity following sensationalist high profile media coverage of these issues? Do you understand that we always see a spike in aggressive DIAC targeting of sex work workplaces following sensationalist high profile media coverage of these issues?
Was this your intention as a result of your report?
We demand an apology from 4 Corners for unwittingly contributing to police corruption and sex worker harassment by DIAC.
2) Support for the criminalisation of sex work and the expansion of police powers as a result of your story.
Decriminalisation is the best legal framework for sex work, it has created a landscape of transparency and access to justice for sex workers in New South Wales and the ACT that is unmatched across the rest of Australia. You did not investigate this in your report.
Regardless, in the wake of the 4 Corners reporting, the increased criminalisation of sex work and increased police powers proposed in Victoria and New South Wales have all been announced, under the cover of the unfounded “allegations” made by 4 Corners.
4 Corners interviewed a sex worker who was in contact with an abolitionist anti-sex work group in Taiwan. That sex worker had wanted to come to Australia to do sex work, and has a legal right to migrate here and do so, but was deceived about their work conditions and exploited while they were here. This is not evidence of the need for criminalisation of sex work or increased police powers in Australia. It is evidence of increasing need for sex worker peer education services to be expanded to reach even more sex workers and let migrant sex workers know about their human rights.
4 Corners did not interview VIXEN or RhED in Victoria, SWOP NSW, SWOP NT, SWOP ACT, Magenta in WA, SIN in South Australia, Respect Inc in Queensland or Scarlet Alliance (national and in Tasmania). 4 Corners did not approach the Sex Workers Union and did not approach us. 4 Corners instead interviewed a tiny abolitionist, anti-sex work group in Melbourne, and a discredited Greens local politician, who ran through a series of trafficking “figures” that we all know are bullshit. This biased reporting is not evidence of the need for criminalisation of sex work or increased police powers in Australia.
4 Corners did not interview COSWAS in Taiwan, Zi Teng in Hong Kong, Giant Girls in South Korea, Empower in Thailand, or any of the other sex worker groups in Asia. This is further evidence of your biased reporting. This is not evidence of the need for criminalisation of sex work or increased police powers in Australia.
4 Corners interviewed the parents of a man who died in a murderous crime committed in relation to brothel violence in Victoria. We are sorry that man was killed. No one should be murdered. However, this is not evidence of the need for criminalisation of sex work or increased police powers in Australia. In fact, police already have massive powers in Victoria. To expand them would be totally ludicrous.
Yet Governments in Victoria and NSW are now responding to public pressure as a result of the 4 Corners program and using it to excuse their (already formulated) policies to increase police powers, criminalise sex work, and strip us of our human rights in those states.
Does 4 Corners intend to sit by and watch while our rights as sex workers are drained from each state and territory on the basis of your report?
We demand 4 Corners make a public statement that they did not intend to provide political support for Victoria or New South Wales in either the repeal of decriminalisation or increasing police powers, as this was not in the scope of your “investigation” and not an outcome that could be linked to the “findings” of the 4 Corners program.
3) “Bad” whore vs “Good” victim dichotomy.
Your show was not saved by the rhetorical intellectual bullshit sprouted by Mr Kerry O’Brien at the beginning of the show. In fact is simply exposes your lack of leg work on this issue. His introduction implied that it was ok to only take the abolitionist point of view because you weren’t talking about whores, you were only talking about victims. We feel sorry that someone wrote such a script for Kerry, perhaps he didn’t realise he was being the political patsy to your biased reporting and the political fall out that was about to ensue.
Let us educate you.
There are no “good” victims. There are no “bad” whores.
Perhaps you have missed the last 25 years of the sex worker rights movement but there is more academic deconstruction of this myth than there is evidence in all the schlock reporting ever done in Australia on mythical trafficking victim stereotyping.
We are not a species to be catalogued and separated in test tubes as a result of your prejudices and whorephobia.
A sex worker who faces bad work conditions and exploitation is still a sex worker deserving of human rights and dignity.
The incessant pathologisation of individuals who have experienced trafficking-like work conditions has poisoned Australian trafficking policy to the point and created serious human rights barriers to those who are brave enough to come forward and report trafficking crimes. Yet Kerrys introduction purpetuates this “good victim” “bad whore” myth and the bad policies it props up.
For example, magistrates making their witness protection visa’s conditional on them not doing sex work while awaiting a trial.
Or people affected by trafficking like situations being told that the stamp in their passport makes it illegal now for them ever to return to Australia to do sex work.
Or migrant sex workers being told by Dept of Immigration that due to Australian trafficking law migrants cannot legally work here.
All of these actions by authorities in Australia are based on the myth that Kerry so confidently trotted out at the beginning of your show.
This logic is like telling a person who got held up in a bank robbery that they can never legally have a bank account again.
Or telling a person who was injured during a car crash that for their own good they can now no longer legally have a drivers license. Or ever travel again in a moving vehicle.
Or, as New Zealand has done, criminalise ALL sex workers who are not New Zealand citizens. For “their own good.”
Your show, its ridiculous promotions, shady re-dramatisations of imaginary events, exploitation of a dead mans parents’ grief and hopeful imaginations of their “heroic” son, use of quotes from Jennifer Burns on the advertising saying that most Australians don’t realise the extent of slavery when Jennifer was talking about slavery that does not occur in sex work yet you used to quote as if to say that she meant sex work, spooky music, your use of a spokesperson who has been discredited so many times we can’t even believe you bothered to interview them in the first place (and we all know who that is) and the fact that you couldn’t even fit into the story ONE counterpoint of view, leads us to demand:
That you remove the promotions, text, and full copy of your 4 Corners program on trafficking for sex work from the ABC website in an effort to prevent further damage and misinformation on this issue.
Sally Neighbour and Kerry O’Brien be required to undergo a full weeks training on sex worker human rights issues, including trainers from Empower Foundation in Thailand, at the ABC’s expense, to ensure that this misguided “helping” of sex workers, which has actually irrevocably damaged migrant sex worker human rights and any possible useful trafficking policies in this country, doesn’t happen at the ABC again.
A group of very angry sex workers
On behalf of Nothing About Us Without Us
CC: Consumer Affairs Victoria
CC: Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association
CC: CopWatch Melbourne
After submitting the complaint NAUWU waited two weeks for a response and when one was not forthcoming we contacted The ABC again requesting a response. We received this reply:
From: ABC Corporate_Affairs5 <Corporate_Affairs5.ABC@abc.net.au>
Date: Tue, Nov 8, 2011 at 3:11 PM
Subject: Sex worker rights and Trafficking media
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
I refer to your email below.
Your complaint is being investigated and you can expect a substantive response in due course. The ABC has 60 days in which to investigate and respond to complaints alleging a breach of its editorial standards. We do endeavour to respond to complaints within 30 days, but occasionally the sheer volume of correspondence received by the ABC means it may sometimes take longer.
Audience and Consumer Affairs
NAUWU on the 16th November received this response from The ABC
On Wed, Nov 16, 2011 at 11:33 AM,
ABC Corporate_Affairs11 <CORPORATE_AFFAIRS11.ABC@abc.net.au> wrote:
Dear Nothing About Us Without Us collective
Thank you for your email concerning the Four Corners program “Sex Slavery”.
As your correspondence raised concerns of a lack of accuracy and objectivity, your email was referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs for consideration and response. The unit is separate and independent from ABC program areas and is responsible for investigating complaints alleging a broadcast or publication was in contravention of the ABC’s editorial standards. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial requirements for accuracy and impartiality, as outlined in sections 2 and 4 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm. In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News.
Four Corners advises that the material that the program drew upon was based on sworn evidence before the Melbourne Magistrates Court where Mao Ru Zhang has been arrested and charged with placing two women in debt bondage and sexual servitude. In Taiwan, the program talked to a Ministry of Justice prosecutor who had gathered evidence based on intercepted phone calls and documented examples of illegal smuggling of Chinese women between Taiwan and Australia. Four Corners stands by the accuracy of its program and that the trafficking cases described in the program, were actual cases of trafficking.
If you have any evidence of corrupt police or immigration officials hassling sex workers, the program would be very happy to receive this information and investigate it further.
On review the program did not “support for criminalisation of sex work and the expansion of police powers”. It investigated examples of where women were being exploited against their will and raised legitimate questions as to how and why such a situation exists in Australia today, especially when the sex industry has been widely decriminalised and regulated for people’s safety and enjoyment? There is nothing in the program to suggest that the program makers are anti-sex workers.
Four Corners advises that it researched this story extensively and spoke to many organisations, academics, investigators, politicians, brothel owners and sex workers, including the Scarlet Alliance. Links to various organisations are found on the program’s website. http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2011/10/06/3333668.htm
Accordingly, while noting your concerns, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied the broadcast was in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and impartiality. Nonetheless, please be assured that your comments have been noted and conveyed to ABC News management and the producers of the program.
Thank you for taking the time to write; your feedback is appreciated.
For your reference, the ABC Editorial Policies are available online at http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/documents/codeofpractice2011.pdf
Should you be dissatisfied with this response to your complaint, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, http://www.acma.gov.au .
Audience & Consumer Affairs
NAUWU was dissatisfied with this response from The ABC so we sent the following reply:
From: Nothing Without <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Nov 17, 2011 at 2:32 PM
Subject: Re: Trafficking for Sex Work in Australia
To: ABC Corporate_Affairs11 <CORPORATE_AFFAIRS11.ABC@abc.net.au>
We do have evidence of police corruption and if your show had done its research without first taking an anti-sex work slant, you too would have already reported on it. This case has been reported on for over 6 months:
Yarra Council, the very council that your 4 Corners ‘talent’ Kathleen Maltzan served upon, implemented am anti-trafficking approach actually has materially that promoted corruption, and has now resulted in the JAILING of an operator in their area (see above link). That 4 Corners uncritically promoted the voice of this anti-sex work campaigner, and overlooked the corruption charges IN THE VERY POLICIES SHE IMPLIMENTED AS A COUNCILLOR is illustrative of the lazy jounalism that characterised that episode of 4 Corners.
The interviews you did show cased Kathleen Maltzhan as if she both had knowledge and advice about trafficking policy. In actual fact HER VERY COUNCIL has been instrumental in the very corruption that has arisen from ANTI TRAFFICKING POLICIES, the policies your show did nothing to critically expose.
There have been closures of brothels EVEN THIS WEEK still as fall out resulting from the false reporting of 4 Corners. Sex workers in Melbourne, Surry Hills, Sydney, Angel Town and Enmore Road Newtown have all faced violent immigration raids and closures of their workplaces on the basis of harsh anti-immigration policing.
Will 4 Corners take responsibility for the harsh law and order response that they priviledged, leading to more sex worker harrasment and no consideration of expanding migrant sex workers rights?
In both the show and your response to our complaint you are continueing to illustrate a complete lack of understanding of sex worker approaches to trafficking prevention. People who have experienced sex trafficking are not for media to pathologise or sensationalise. Your show has had a direct negative impact on migrant sex workers rights, and have contributed to harsh negative law and order approaches that have materially reduced sex workers access to justice or anti-trafficking preventions since you aired the show.
We are incredibly dissapointed at your response. Our committee will consider your response and acknowledge the time period that passed since we sent you our complaint; this may have an impact on whether the Press Council will accept us to submit this to arbitartion or not.
We are dissapointed and feel that this discussion is not over; we don’t feel like 4 Corners has effectively addressed our complaint, and your refusal of all of our suggestions is unacceptable.
The anti-sex work nature of your show was palpable, the reporting was biased, and NAUWU is totally not happy with your response.
Please explain how your show chose an anti-trafficking spokesperson without critically investigating her own history and involvement with failed harsh criminal approaches to trafficking
NAUWU and the sex working community is furious with the ABC’s response. Our next step is to make an appeal to the Press Council, however we have to ask them to waive the 30 day limitation on the complaint because the ABC took longer than usual to respond to NAUWU’s complaint.
The Press Council arbitration means signing a document to agree not to sue the ABC in other ways in the future. NAUWU believes this program was incredibly damaging and so has no problem signing such a document to take the complaint to the next level and believe The ABC and the Four Corners program needs to be judged by a third party,
Even if The Press Council finds in favour or 4 Corners, the fact that we have pursued the complaint is meaningful. At the end of the year the Press Council writes a report about who was complained about and why, so even if our complaint is turned down or isn’t successful it will be worthwhile having made the complaint.
We will keep you informed.
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