Tips on Using the Media for Our Purposes
The most important factor in having good media relations and a fair coverage is to nurture good working relations with a group of journalists. But even insensitive journalists can be educated or „tamed”, if we can offer them something in return for their cooperation. A sex workers’ organization may, for instance, provide journalists with contacts to local sex workers (or ones relevant to the topic of the article) available for interview. Since this is always a very delicate affair and involves serious risks, special attention should be paid to the agreement it is based upon.
Prior to that, some sex workers need to understand and often be convinced why, every once in a while, they will have to make themselves available for selected journalists. The conditions of the interview must be set in advance. One can always request anonymity, or that no picture is taken of her/him. The media, however need visual information, therefore they will probably insist on taking pictures/shooting video footage. For this reason, sex workers should be selected for interviews who don’t mind being appearing in pictures/video. This, however, doesn’t mean that they agree to show their faces. Personality rights (the right of publicity) mean that one has control over the commercial use of his or her name, image, voice, likeness or other unequivocal aspects of one's identity.
For this reason, the reporter/photographer must agree to let the sex worker or the organization authorize the picture or the video before it is published or broadcast. This way, interviewees can make sure their face is blurred or voice is distorted. If the reporter has proved to be reliable earlier, this agreement may be oral, otherwise a disclosure form should be signed before the interview, stating what rules the journalist/reporter will comply with.
Sex workers have a right to decide if they want to show their faces or speak in a recognizable voice. Journalists/reporters don’t like to manipulate pictures, video or audio, but will do so if they have to, because sex work is a „sexy” issue for the media, attracting big audiences.
When giving interviews, sex workers risk their safety and their privacy. Journalists therefore should bare the risk of losing their job, if they violate the agreement.
The cooperation may also be tied to the condition of a final check of the article, or that information the organization considers relevant is included. By selecting sex workers available for the media, the organization can maintain an indirect control over the content.
Safeguarding our interests and personality rights is crucial, but there are proactive tools as well. Journalists, on the one hand, like sensations and negative news. On the other, they like to include relevant, well prepared information into their articles, especially if doing so doesn’t cost them time or energy. Having such information ready made and available, advocacy organizations can influence the coverage in a favourable way. One of the most important aims is to demystify sex work by, for instance, portraying sex workers as everyday people with everyday lives. During the seminar in Ohrid, a good tool came up to acquaint journalists or media professionals with reality: the daily schedule of a sex worker.
Below is a transcript from the original Ohrid flipchart:
9.00-10.00 Wake up without alarm clock, drink water.
10.00-10.30 Have breakfast, listen to news on the radio.
10.30-12.00 Read books, chat on the phone or make beauty preparations
12.00-14.00 Have lunch, specially prepared vegetables
14.00-16.00 Meet friends in a café or pub, or work out every second day
16.00-18.00 Having clients (sometime) or have a sleep or visit parents
18.00-22.00 Have clients or use internet or be with boyfriend
22.00-9.00 sleep (no clients at night)
Other sex workers may work on tighter or less fancy schedules. Here is another example:
7.00 The alarm is ringing! Why do I have to get up again?
7.10 Cup of coffee. I have to prepare breakfast for my daughter Nastia and my husband Alexander. While the porridge cooks, I go to take a shower.
7.30 Every day I go to coax my children awake and out of bed, wake up my daughter. They have to get ready to go to kindergarten and school. We have breakfast and get dressed to leave.
8.00 Daughter to kindergarten and son to school.
8.15 I am running to work. I can't be late! My boss is strict-she says that if I am late to work, I can leave or pay the fine!
8.30 On my schedule is my first client. She is telling me her problems and also about her life: the husband is 'walking about', not paying her any attention and so on…
16.00 Next client… female client… problems of other people are getting to my head…
17.00 I am running to the kindergarten to pick up my daughter, so that she isn't the last one on her way home. I think about upcoming expenses for the kindergarten renovations, the gift for the director of the kindergarten, mobile telephone, rent, the medication of my mother…
18.30 We are home. I have to check my son's homework, do the laundry, tidy up, feed them and think up a bedtime story to tell them to be able to go out for night from 22.00
21.00 I say goodnight to my children. Nice bedtime story for the night
21.30 To live a normal life I need to have a second job.
23.00 My first client. I listen to his life story: wife is not listening to him, problems at work…
03.00 I am at home, the children are sleeping. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL!
If enough members from any local community participate in a project to record what they do on regular working days, the resulting „database” will provide a reliable depiction of their everyday reality. After that, journalists can be supplied with extracts they can use at their discretion or according to preset rules. On the other hand, if journalists misuse the material or break other deals made with sex workers or their organization during the preparation of the material by misrepresenting them, their editors may be notified of the ethical violation. In such cases, a correction can be requested, or a more professional form of cooperation developed with the given media outlet, to ensure a fairer representation.
Many other approaches are possible. All of this can be done in a clever and compelling way, new aspects of the sex workers' life can be introduced in the media, without making the journalist and the audience feel that they are forced to take over a preset opinion.
There are many more indirect ways to change the tone of the media coverage that take much more time. The collection and true representation of all facts and opinions relevant to a story is probably the most important professional ethical standard journalists need to adhere to. If, despite our efforts to cooperate with them, when covering sex work journalists regularly fail this, other means of media advocacy may come to the forefront. Organizations can, for instance, set up an award for fair reporting on sex work, or, on the contrary, a mock award for abusive articles or coverage. The media loves to report on such issues, and the presentation of the award is always a great opportunity to raise awareness for sex workers’ rights. Also, politicians, activists, researchers, academics, social workers etc who contributed a great deal to advance the cause of sex worker's rights could be acknowledged on an annual basis.