We have all heard of the phrase, ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity,’ which is accredited to Phineas T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner. However, the idea that publicity can do no harm is very disputable.
During my immigration policy senior seminar last semester, I researched four common human trafficking misconceptions to analyze how the media perpetuated these false beliefs. The four common misconceptions I focused on for Michigan included that human trafficking only:
1. Involves sex trafficking,
2. Happens across international borders and not in the U.S.,
3. Involves powerful gangster or strangers that randomly kidnap individuals, and
4. Affects women and not men.
As a result of my research, I discovered that media coverage of human trafficking contradicts Barnum’s phrase, because in reality there is such a thing as bad publicity, which leads to common misconceptions.
In today’s post and then again next week, I will be sharing some of the information I learned about how media coverage can be misleading about human trafficking.
Journalists use several techniques to perpetuate common misconceptions and to shape public opinion. A necessary goal for media outlets is to receive high ratings and make a profit, even if the information they are relaying is not completely accurate. Contrary to academic researchers who write for very specialized journals with a professional audience, news writers adjust their work to capture the attention of the general public.
Newspaper journalists have the capacity to shape social agendas because the public uses news stories to attach meaning to certain events and groups of people. This is largely accomplished through the language that is used because reporters are able to steer the readers in whichever direction they wish and encourage the sort of reaction they want. Certain patterns I noticed throughout my research were the:
· Us verses them dichotomy, which illustrates how reporters categorize victims as either criminals or innocent targets;
· Willing and unwilling victims;
· Illegal verses undocumented or irregular migrants;
· Strangers verses familiar traffickers; and
· Sensationalized text (more on this next week).
Take Action: In this fast paced world most of us quickly read an article or listen to a reporter without analyzing the language and questioning what is being said. As individuals who are concerned that the publicly receives the correct information about human trafficking, let’s continue to pay close attention to the language media uses and point out to others how it is often misleading.
Next weeks topic will be Sensationalizing Sex
Sona Movsisyan is a senior at Michigan State University, studying in the James Madison College. Her aspiration is to be a human rights attorney and an advocate for victims of human trafficking.