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In this and following issue of the SWAN Advocacy School we will talk about organizing sensitization seminars for the media reporters on sex work issues. More

In this and following issue of the SWAN Advocacy School we will talk about organizing sensitization seminars for the media reporters on sex work issues.


In 2008 SWAN developed curricula for media sensitization seminars on sex work issues and organized several seminars in six countries. Curricula are available to you as well – please write us if you would like us to send it to you. But beyond the curricula there are many things to take care about in preparing such seminars. In this issue of the Advocacy School we are talking about the work to be done before the seminar.


Part I - Preparation

Possible Allies

Working with media is for many SWAN member organizations, and for almost all sex workers in the region, is an unknown territory.


For that reason it is advisable to consult other organizations and individuals in various phases of the project, and in some cases even partner with them in organizing the seminar. For example, media associations and press clubs can be consulted in the journalist selection process; human rights organizations and experts can be invited as guest speakers, etc.


Contact those organizations that you think might be interested in the topic (either through their focus on the media or by their interest in sex work issues or human rights) and explore possible collaboration. Maybe they can help you select participants, or introduce you to potential participants or media editors, or maybe you could organize the event together?


Possible allies are journalist clubs, associations, media centers, NGOs, government agencies or intergovernmental organizations.


Time, place and logistics

SWAN sensitization seminars organized in 2008 aimed at having an average of 5-7 participants. Therefore, they were organized in most cases in the SWAN members’ premises. But a journalist club, press center, or journalist association’s office could be also good seminar sites. They are even better because a seminar organized in their premises promises to be more independent then one organized in an NGO. Impartial approach is high on the media’s definition of professionalism.


Journalists are very busy and work under stress and tight deadlines. Do NOT plan the seminar to last more than half a day. Ideally it should be around 3 hours long, with one coffee break included.


Timing should be chosen carefully. Avoid days when many press conferences or big events could be organized. The website of your national news agency will have a calendar with all the media events and press conferences listed for each day of the week so that you can plan carefully and avoid conflicting timing. Consult partners who have experience in working with media about when might be good to schedule your seminar.


The event should not start before 9, and ideally at 10 or 11 am. Due to the longer afternoon working hours, reporters tend to get up late and have late lunch. For example, no press conference is organized before 9, and most are scheduled for 10 or 11 am.


Facilitators and guests

Do include sex workers in the preparatory phase and, if possible, as presenters and facilitators.


But very careful when planning for sex workers’ participation in facilitation since there may be unanticipated consequences for them once their identities are public. Sex workers who many not feel comfortable training media in their own countries, may feel freer to contribute to trainings in other countries.


Selection of participants

Selection of the appropriate journalists or media editors is of key importance for the success of the project.


Many of us have not had much contact with media and even those who have, are by no means media experts. For that reason you should consult other organizations such as journalists associations, media centers, press centers or clubs during the selection process.


Human rights organizations or other NGOs that have more experience in working with media can also be consulted. Last but not least, you could consult media editors or reporters that you personally know and whose judgment you trust. Think of the reporters you’ve seen covering human rights, social issues, or health issues.


Think of building lasting partnerships and consider those who will remain in their positions for a longer time. Try to have editors and reporters who are as senior as possible among your participants, but beware that if you shoot too high, you might get cancellations at the last moment, because they easily can get unexpectedly busy.



Language is very important. As much as we expect media to use appropriate language when reporting about sex workers, they expect us to be sensitive and use appropriate language when evaluating their work.


Do not forget that you are NOT a certified media trainer. And even if you were, media representatives do NOT like to be trained and told what to do. Be sensitive in your approach; insist that you organize sensitization seminars and NOT trainings.


Try not to be condescending when explaining the current situation of how sex work is represented in the media and the harm it can cause. Avoid calling the media unprofessional and try to be positive and emphasize the possible improvements rather than focusing on the problems and mistakes.


This is particularly important in your first contact with the media and during the preparatory phase. Later on, at the seminar, you can use examples of damaging and unprofessional reporting and let reporters themselves analyze their professionalism.


Inviting the participants

Ideally, the seminar will be recommended to potential participants by someone who is a common friend or colleague – maybe by the media centers we involved in the selection phase, someone from a friendly NGO, or someone from the government with whom you’ve worked on a joint project.


Gauge potential participants’ interest first in an informal way. One month before the seminar send an email or make a phone call. If the reporter is interested, send by email the Project Backgrounder that you will develop in advance. Give them two weeks to read the material and then make another call to see if the reporter is interested. Only if he/she is, send an official invitation on your NGO’s letterhead.


You should count that at least 70% of those initially contacted will not come to the event (that was the SWAN average). So if you want 5-7 participants, initially contact 15-20 of them.


If you make a phone call to journalists, the golden rule is to start with a question: is she on a deadline? If yes, when can you call back?


Right in the first contact be clear that it is not a press conference or an interview, and that no coverage is expected as a result of the seminar.


In “selling” the seminar emphasize the benefits journalists and media organizations will have from it, NOT the benefits your organization or sex workers will have.


In case the seminar is organized in partnership with another organization – for example a journalist club - it may help to have the invitation sent from the club.


Journalists will then perceive the event as organized by their own organization and might be more likely to attend.


Handout materials and sources

The seminar package developed by SWAN had the following materials:


Backgrounder on SWAN Journalist Sensitization Seminars – with information about each particular country, organization and seminar. It was distributed in the invitation-negotiation phase.


Facilitator’s Manual – this is for the facilitator’s use only and was not distributed to the media. It had practical suggestions about preparation, delivery and post-seminar phases.


SWAN also prepared hand-outs for those attending the seminar. It was up to the country seminar organizers to choose if they feel there are other locally relevant or helpful resources to distribute. Some of the hand-outs were designed to accompany specific parts of the seminar and could therefore either be handed out prior to or after the seminar, depending on the facilitating approach. Other hand-outs contain information above and beyond what is covered in the sensitization and are for journalists to take home and keep as reference documents.


The hand-outs were:

• Sex Work in our Country

• Sex Workers, Human Rights and the Fight against HIV in CEE/CA

• Reframing Sex Work Issues in the Media

• A Look at the Changing Media Representations of Sex Workers

• Guidelines for Sensitive Media Coverage on Sex Work

• Declaration on the Rights of Sex Workers


Possible issues

Before the sensitization seminars, think about what issues or concerns you can have as a facilitator.


What boundaries do you feel comfortable with and do not want to cross at the seminar?


If sex workers are participating at the seminar, they will need to think in advance about how to address any questions about their personal experience. It is recommended that sex workers facilitating the seminar not discuss their personal experience at length. This may distract from the seminar and one of its key messages: that there is not just one sex worker story but a great diversity of them.


You should also have a brief brainstorm on what facilitators will do when they receive questions they feel unequipped to respond to because they tackle a complex social reality or policy question.


In the next issue of the Sex Workers’ Advocacy School: The things to be taken care of during the delivery and after the seminar.