So we have come to the near end of my series of blogs relating to the Lateline episode that was shown last week on the ABC network in Australia. Throughout the last week, you will see that I have dissected the Lateline episode, piece by piece, to show what a harmful episode it was for not only Australian viewers but those who can tune into Lateline via the web around the world. We first saw the ill-informed discussion of the Swedish Model, we saw the judgemental perspective of Project Respect and we all collectively sighed in front of our television screens as it happened.
Well it didn’t stop there. And I must say, this last blog is probably the most difficult blog I have had to write because of the personal feelings that I felt as I watched it. I try to keep a very objective sense about myself. I tend to allow myself to be presented with the views of others and if they offend me, I try to keep them in perspective. Sometimes I manage it well. On other occasions, I do not manage it so well.
On this occasion, I did not manage it well – and neither did many others.
It was the interview with Jules Kim, the migration project manager of the Scarlet Alliance which Lateline rightfully stated was the peak body for sex workers.
Before the beginning of the show, Lateline tweeted to me that they would be asking Scarlet Alliance for their position on the matter. As my first blog showed, I called bullshit right from the start. There was no possible way that they could run what was essentially an anti-sex worker program and then call in Scarlet Alliance in some form of tokenism in order to avoid it being exactly what it was – an anti-sex worker program.
Firstly, before I dive into the segment, I want to personally thank Jules Kim – if she is out there listening – for going on the program. She was effectively diving into the lions den. Before someone goes on to a program, they are generally briefed about the contents of the program and the type of questions that a guest would be expected to answer. Now if Jules Kim was aware of the questions she was about to be asked, then I personally thank her for not turning her back on the program at the time of the brief and going ahead to withstand the onslaught. If she was not briefed appropriately, then we should all praise Jules Kim, as a representative of Scarlet Alliance, for staying very calm in what were extraordinary circumstances.
When Jules was introduced, straight after Kate from Project Respect, I expected that because Kate had spoken about Asian migrant workers to some degree, that by pulling in Jules Kim, our migration project manager, we would have some form of good discussion about the level of migration of sex workers into Australia. Alberici reaffirmed this idea by beginning the segment with a statistic that 2/3rds of sex workers are migrant workers.
I was wrong about how the segment would transpire and I knew it from the minute it started.
Jules is immediately asked to explain the difference between legalisation and decriminalisation which was fair. I understood that and I believed that this was important. But in comes Alberici….
Sex Work As Harmful
“Do you accept that sex work can be harmful to women?”
Now that was a straight out biased question from Alberici. To rephrase that question, Alberici was essentially saying “I think sex work is harmful to women, do you agree?” Right from the outset, Alberici perceived bias from the earlier segment now becomes a little less perceived and a little more real. Jules Kim collects herself by explaining the problematic system of Victoria and the problem with licensing. Jules had no time to collect herself, nor did she have the power balance in the interview arrangement to come out and say “do you know what? No, it’s not harmful in most cases.”
Complete Abolition of Sex Work
“Do you believe we should be getting rid of sex work altogether?”
Unbelievable. Now, Alberici is sitting across from a sex work advocate who works for the recognised peak body of sex workers in Australia, Scarlet Alliance. Did Alberici really expect Jules Kim to turn around and say “well, actually, Emma, I really do think we need to get rid of sex work because its awful, harmful, dangerous and morally offensive to not only you but the rest of the viewers of Lateline.” No, Jules was not going to say this. And Jules quite rightfully responds with a short, bemused laugh at the question and answers no. It is a legitimate form of work.
Enjoyment of Work
Now if that wasn’t quite enough for Alberici, she dives in with words to the effect of:
“Surely the women in this work who enjoy it are in the minority.”
Bias. Straight out biased. And at this point in time, the rational person that I am (mostly) is flicking through the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance Journalists Code of Ethics (to which I am not sure Alberici is subject to but it is a good guideline on the expectations of journalists in Australia) —> http://www.alliance.org.au/code-of-ethics.html – I’ll get back to this a little later.
Jules Kim begins to explain that people have to work in this line of work but Alberici actually interrupts Jules Kim by saying that she was painting this situation as a “no alternative situation”. Jules begins to speak but Alberici cuts her off with her next question. But before the question comes through, Lucie Bee speaks out on Twitter and states:
“@LucieBeexxx: You don’t support women. You judge their choices and insinuate that those who do enjoy their work don’t know their own mind. #lateline.”
Aspirations of Sex Workers
Jules begins to speak but Alberici interrupts one more time and she states the one very point that many sex workers despise hearing….
“I find it very hard that any woman aspires to be a sex worker.”
My point to Emma Alberici is as follows: Firstly, Emma Alberici, you as a journalist are not expected to give YOUR views on the topics that you are investigating. So if, Emma Alberici, YOU find it hard to think that any woman would aspire to be a sex worker, then YOU need to go and have a think about that in YOUR own time and NOT on live television where there are possibly 200,000 people watching your program from all walks of life, all education levels, all socioeconomic situations, and all cultural backgrounds. Emma Alberici, it was not YOUR job to tell Jules Kim, or the audience what YOU think.
Alliance members engaged in journalism are supposed to commit themselves to
Respect for the rights of others
Alberici failed at this very moment in all aspects of the above other than honesty – and that honesty was shown by the fact that her view was simply that sex work shouldn’t exist and that Alberici was morally offended by the fact that sex work exists.
Holly rightfully states:
“@HollyInAlbury: I think its disgusting to allow an anti-sex work person to host a fair show… this is not fair & her opinion is reeking thru..@lateline.”
Jules handles herself absolutely outstandingly at this moment, where she states that the reason why Alberici is struggling with this is because we only hear the negative narrative when it comes to sex work and that “sex work is work”.
But let’s not leave this issue sitting because it feeds directly back into the Alberici question in an earlier segment that “surely no girl dreams of being a sex worker.”
Jackie McMillan states:
“Also @Lateline didnt we shoot down @MiaFreedman for the “no little girl dreams of being a sex worker”? Did we need to repeat the line?”
Christian Vega, sex worker from Tasmania wrote an excellent blog about the comments made by Mia Freedman (an Australian social commentator) a while ago here —> http://christianbvega.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/a-comment-mamamia-wouldnt-publish.html. Christian, in his outstanding blog states:
“This is the experience of sex workers everyday. People wonder why many of us hide- it’s the judgments Mia made- judgements she gives other mothers and people permission to make (and if you’d like to read this judgement one doesn’t have to look beyond the comments some of her readers have made on her post)- that keep many of us silent. It is this silence that isolates family members from each other is the same silence that prevents sex workers seeking recourse if they have been assaulted, discriminated against or otherwise need help.”
Alberici is not finished with Jules Kim.
The Kirby Institute Survey
She pulls out what is called the Kirby Institute Study from the UNSW which finds that 46% of those surveyed rate their English as “fair or poor”. Alberici questions whether these sex workers have any ability to negotiate conditions with clients.
Jules Kim rightfully points out that English level, studies show, have no correlation to a woman’s education background. Now while Jules Kim does really well to battle this out with Emma Alberici, I think we missed a REALLY important issue about Emma Alberici’s question and the Kirby Institute Study.
Alberici states that the Kirby Institute Study says 46% of surveyors ticked YES to “FAIR” OR “POOR”. Not “fair to poor”, not “poor”, not “little to none”, not “somewhat poor”. I guarantee you that if we were to source that Kirby Institute Study (I have not yet sourced it), we would find that there is more to those statistics. We are given no indication as to how many people ticked “FAIR”. Now if a majority of those who ticked “FAIR”, then by the definition of fair (being “reasonable”) then absolutely those who were surveyed would be entirely able to negotiate the conditions of the transactions with clients. Being reasonably able to speak English is not fatal to a sex worker’s ability to transact. Yes, if the majority had ticked “POOR”, the Alberici may have had a point but by the way that the survey was presented on Lateline, Emma Alberici forgot to ignore the issue that I have raised about about the definition of “fair” and “poor” and the lack of any indication as to who ticked what, and went along with a negative narrative that suited her agenda. As I was watching this interview, my head was literally in my hands because I could see this massive problem with the question that was asked. Jules Kim, through the negative narration of a survey result was effectively trapped into a very difficult academic discussion with Emma Alberici about women’s language versus women’s education. Emma Alberici hammers Jules Kim on this issue based on poor negative narrative and it draws the viewers into that negative narrative.
Emma Alberici evens states in the crossfire that “fair and poor is pretty indicative of a woman’s ability to speak English.” Well no, my above paragraph completely and utterly refutes that statement.
As Lucie Bee at this point rightfully states:
“@LucieBeexxx: An unbiased report would have represented something other than the doom and gloom narrative of old. #lateline.”
Another interesting comment was made by Chris Johnson, who stated:
“@Dream_Brother: Surely @Lateline knows that there are trans* and male sex workers to go along with female sex workers, right?” #sexwork”
Knowing that this was hard on Jules Kim, Fiona Patten MLC, leader of the Australian Sex Party states:
“@FionaPattenMLC Respect to Jules Kim from @scarletalliance appearing on @Lateline tonight to discuss decriminalisation of #sexwork.”
Emma Alberici was not yet done with Jules KIm.
The RMIT Report On Mental Health
“All participants [state that there are effects] to their self esteem.”
Jules Kim wins this one hands down by immediately responding that it is because of the stigma and discrimination that exists in society. At this point, you would have expected that Jules Kim would have given up on the aggression that was being exerted by Alberici but she stood strong and tall notwithstanding the pressure.
That said, Jackie McMillan states:
“What a shame @Lateline didn’t present the excellent #health outcomes experienced by NSW #sexworkers under #decriminalisation. #fail.”
“What about the link between sex work and human trafficking?”
Jules Kim stands tall again, stating she does not know what she means. And Jules Kim rightfully states this because once again we have that misconception that sex work and human trafficking are directly linked. I will do a blog on it some time soon but we are always fighting to remind people that human trafficking means a GREAT deal more than just bringing in people to work in brothels under horrible conditions. Human trafficking is a large large issue around the world when it comes to the transfer of labour across borders to provide ALL sorts of services, not just sex work, but yet again we have a media outlet running the negative narrative that sex work = human trafficking. As Jules Kim states, sex work is NOT inherently violent, and the migration of people for sex work is NOT trafficking.
Alberici finally leaves it there and its all over.
I am not going to say anything further on the matter on this blog. However, I will leave this here —>http://about.abc.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ABCCodeOfPractice20143.pdf.
Its the ABC’s Code of Practice and urge you to express your concern about Lateline through ABC’s Media Watch.
Note 1: Image: http://www.mediacoop.ca/story/rights-not-rescue/13595