To all journalists and program producers: please respect sex workers!

In the beginning of 2007, the Television program ‘Seasons in Life’ on Phoenix Satellite Television interviewed several ‘xiaojie’(sex workers) in Mainland China. They showed their real face in the program, frankly sharing their stories with the Chinese communities in different parts of the world. At the same time, the host of another program ‘An Appointment with Lu Yu’ interviewed Chen Jing, who documented migrant Chinese sex workers working in Australia. In the program, Chen Lu Yu asked Chen Jing about the life of sex workers. She even scorned sex workers by asking Chen Jing, ‘Did you ever think that you will get something infected if you visit those places? ’She later also recommended Chen Jing to put on long trousers and long-sleeved shirts, while Chen Jing scornfully said that she washed all the clothes she lent to the interviewee right after the interview. What they said in the program clearly showed us their disrespect to the interviewees, that they look down on sex workers.

Mass media influences much on the society. If the message of respecting sex workers is put in the program, the public may less discriminate and insult sex workers, they may also understand more about the life of sex workers. Yet, the producers of the said program not only look down on sex workers, also disclose the true identities of sex workers to attract more audience. They ignore the interviewees’ privacy and safety, increase the exposure of sex workers to criminal charge (sex work is a crime in Mainland China). Besides, They deeply hurt the interviewees, exposing the interviewees, interviewees’ family and friends to discrimination, disrupting interviewees’ relationship with family and friends. We feel deep anger and regret to the way the producers make the program.

Mass media should base on facts and truth to write sex workers’ stories. In fact, facts in modern society are always complicated and multifaceted. Things related to sex workers in particular can never be explained in a few words. For instance, the relationship between sex work and gynecological diseases, sexual diseases, HIV/AIDS, drug addiction can never be simply explained. There are many fallacies, which a journalist or program producer is obliged to clarify in the article or program. Sex workers do have greater risks than others to be infected by sexual diseases, but this does not imply that all sex workers will get infected. Rather, they are more aware of self-protection. They are the victims of STDs and HIV/AIDS but not the perpetrators. While HIV/AIDS virus cannot be transmitted in daily life, it is also not common for STDs to be spread in daily life. If the journalists or program producers are not aware of the said knowledge, it is the best for them to remain neutral, and to let the audience to make their judgment. This is what we call as respecting the fact.

At the same time, mass media should produce human-based stories and programs by respecting the interviewees, their rights to be informed, and their rights to make decision. If the journalist or program producer is going to work with someone’s private domain, s/he has to obtain the consent of the interviewee. The consent should be a real consent with the interviewee’ clear understanding and willingness. Sometimes the interviewee may not yet seriously considered what will come out from her decision. As a responsible journalist or program producer, s/he should consider for the interviewee and remind the interviewee.

The most important is that a journalist or program producer should develop a sense of responsibility to maintain social justice. Mass media helps to monitor the society, and to tell the public about the society. If journalists and program producers are irresponsible as Chen Lu Yu and Chen Jing, expressing opinions like ‘fear or not to be infected by visiting those places’, ‘one should put on long trousers and long-sleeved shirt before visiting those places’, ‘washed the clothes lent to the girl right after the interview’, they are indeed conveying something wrong to the public. They wrongly imply to the public that sex workers are unclean, indirectly encouraging the public to keep a distance from sex workers.

In fact, the making of a story or program about sex workers’ experiences does help the audience to understand sex workers more. Nevertheless, the producers and staff making ‘Seasons in Life’ and ‘An Appointment with Lu Yu’ recklessly put their prejudicial ideas and viewpoints in the program. Not only they misled the public, also caused great impact and hurt to the interviewed sex workers.

While sex workers can make use of mass media to increase their voice in the society, we strongly appeal to all journalists and program producers to remain objective and neutral in their work about sex workers.  

Zi Teng
(sex workers concern organization)
Beijing Women’s Network and Training Center