Combating Human Trafficking: Role of the Fourth Estate

Welcoming Speech by Datuk  Chamil Wariya, CEO of Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) at the FourthWorkshop on Reporting on Trafficking in Persons organised by MPI and the Embassy of the United States of America, Thistle Hotel, Johor Bahru, 6th May 2014


Pertama-tama, saya ingin memanjatkan rasa syukur ke hadrat Allah S.W.T. kerana dengan izin dan limpah kuniaNya dapat kita semua berada di dewan ini pada pagi ini bagi menjayakan satu lagi program latihan anjuran Malaysian  Press Institute atau MPI – kali ini tentang pemerdagangan orang.

Saya juga ingin mengambil kesempatan awal ini untuk menzahirkan setinggi-tinggi penghargaan kepada YBhg Dato’ Alwi Haji Ibrahim, Timbalan Ketua Setiausaha Kanan (Keselamatan), Kementerian Dalam Negeri Malaysia, atas kesudian beliau hadir serta seterusnya merasmikan dan melancarkan bengkel ini sebentar lagi.

Kami di MPI amat menyanjung sokongan padu yang diberikan oleh pihak KDN melalui Majlis Anti Pemerdagangan Orang dan Anti Penyeludupan Migran atau MAPO, Pasukan Polis DiRaja Malaysia dan Jabatan Imigresen Malaysia untuk merealisasikan usaha mendedahkan pelbagai aspek mengenai pemerdagangan orang dan penyeludupan migran kepada golongan wartawan dan pengamal media.

MPI juga menghargai kemurahan hati Kedutaan Besar Amerika Syarikat di Kuala Lumpur yang pada pagi ini diwakili oleh Sdra Harvey W. Sernovitz, Pegawai Akhbar dan Penerangannya, untuk menjadikan Workshop On Reporting on Trafficking in Persons ini satu kenyataan.

Sokongan yang diberikan oleh Jabatan Peguam Negara,  serta pihak-pihak lain yang terbabit dalam menjayakan bengkel ini juga tidak kami lupakan. Hanya Allah S.W.T. dapat membalas jasa baik kalian.

This is the fourth workshop held on Human Trafficking organised by MPI, the Embassy of the United States in Kuala Lumpur and the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (MAPO), Ministry of Home Affairs Malaysia.

The first was held in Kuala Lumpur in 2011, the second in 2012 at Kota Kinabalu, the third in Kota Baharu last year and now here in the Johor state capital.

We welcome the 34 participants consisting of journalists, four of which are from Singapore.

With this workshop, some one hundred journalists have already taken part since we commenced the series in 2011.

 Human trafficking – a worldwide problem

Human trafficking defined as modern day slavery is a worldwide problem. The illegal trade of human beings mainly for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour is affecting Malaysia too.

Malaysia has been seen by various Human Rights groups as a destination and to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons.

The main purpose, according to them, is forced prostitution and for men, women, and children who are in conditions of forced labour.

Since the Workshop on Human Trafficking organised by MPI, the US Embassy and MAPO four years ago, we would expect that the local mainstream media would have picked up on the gravity of the issue and report more on the matter.

I would have to say that the situation now is somewhat better as opposed to four years ago. I have scanned the local dailies and television news coverage on human trafficking and there is indeed increased awareness, judging by the space given to stories related to human trafficking and quotes from people in government with regard to the issues.

I think the officials and politicians have taken the problems related to Human Trafficking much more seriously. They are speaking about it, taking and pledging action, but again more needs to be done.

As for the media, the coverage has been widened not only to police and municipal council enforcement officers’ raids on illegal establishments, but also more vertical investigations. The portrayal is that not only of the foreigners arrested as being the GROs or prostitutes. There is also now more in-depth look at the root causes of the issue.

Previously, the media had examined the symptoms; now there are forays into who are responsible for the social phenomena, such as organised crime syndicates, local racketeers and foreign recruiters. We had also seen the effects on individuals and families of those most at risk. This is a global problem and not just a domestic predicament.

In-depth reporting and responsible journalism

I must also say that there have been aggressive attempts in the way of in-depth reporting or investigative journalism on the issue. Open public debate and forum on the very serious injustices had been growing and becoming more heated.

To look for incisive and no-holds barred accounts of such miserable existence, however, we would have to meet with the non-governmental bodies who were left to investigate and aid the victims. We do get to read and listen about this in the mainstream news, but more can be done.

The local NGOs are very good resources for social ills such as people trafficking and illegal migration. By all means, the local mainstrean media should check the facts of the NGOs and verified them with the authorities concerned.

The media has a role to educate the public on such matters, no matter how unpleasant they may be. This is not something that is taught in schools, so the public must be clued in to what’s the latest on the fate of an ever-growing segment of humanity.

You know, we’re fortunate that this workshop has brought together, among others the Attorney-general’s Chambers represented today by Sdra Umar Saifuddin Jaafar, Head of Prosecution Unit, Johor; DSP A J Michael, Chief of ATIP/SOM Division of The Royal Malaysian Police, and the officials from the Immigration Department Malaysia. Political Officer of US Embassy, Kuala Lumpur, Miss Elisabeth Socolow will also be here to share the US experiences in dealing with this issue of modern day slavery. I am sure the Deputy CPO of Kuala Lumpur PDRM, Datuk Amar Singh, will touch upon this issue of human trafficking at the end of the workshop. They are all stake-holders and interested parties in a global phenomenon that is growing and spreading its tentacles throughout societies.

Engage the NGOs too

I am happy to note that the news media have risen to the challenge I threw at them in our last workshop to think outside the box and get their own stories; something that goes beyond press conferences and press releases.

The signs are encouraging. The media now not only rely on official sources for their information, but they also get them from NGOs who are in the frontline in dealing with this issue of human trafficking.

In doing so, the media can easily vet the sources and zero in on those who come up with the most accurate data, evidence and victims’ testimonies. Getting the information straight from the horses’ mouth is more compelling and complements the quotes or sound-bites from officials. They will also give you a complete picture of the whole problem.

Critical news coverage also meant that enforcement officers and the relevant authorities were on the ball in tracking the lynchpins of the merchants of modern-day slavery.

Participants would also be briefed on the legal aspects on human trafficking by Law Professor Salleh Buang. There will also be field trips, such as a visit to the Kota Tinggi District Police Headquarters to glance into the daily responsibilities of the enforcement officers.

Powerful tool of social change

Ladies and gentlemen of the media, this is an opportunity not to be missed because there is no other workshop that would provide the sources of information to journalists on how the public can be made more aware of modern-day slavery.

With the expertise provided and the forum for information exchange, this workshop is a benefit to the fourth estate.

The media has a large role to play in mobilizing public support and involvement to help prevent and combat trafficking. Due to its reach and ability to mould public opinion, it is a powerful tool of social change.

Responsible investigative journalism on trafficking needs to be promoted. It must be done ethically. Media publicity should take into consideration the right and balance approach and ensure that there is no violation of the rights of the victims and survivors. So, there is a need to develop minimum standards for the media.

Thank you and selamat berbengkel.