MTV, the most popular music channel in the Asia-Pacific region, will soon be playing a different tune.
Half-hour shows, beginning Sep.18 for MTV Thailand, will have live and hip music giving way to the harrowing accounts of human trafficking victims. No glam shots and glitzy productions here, just raw and oftentimes shocking images that will make young MTV fans sit up. Trafficking will get a human face through the personal accounts of Anna, Eka and Min Aung. Anna was forced into prostitution in the Philippines, while Eka is an Indonesian who was an abused domestic worker in Singapore. Min Aung from Burma recounts his experiences working and being practically imprisoned in a Thai factory for two years.
"Why is MTV involved in the issue of human trafficking? It's primarily because our audience, who belong to the 15 to 29 age range, are the main target of traffickers. We believe that the key to solving the problem is to raise awareness especially among the young people," said Tom Ehr, chief executive of MTV Europe Foundation (MTVEF) at the launch of the documentary, titled 'MTV Exit: End Exploitation and Trafficking', here.
The programme, hosted by popular Thai singer Tata Young, was produced by the Britain-based MTVEF and MTV Networks with the full support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The documentary, which will be presented by different hosts in the region, will be shown in Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, to name a few. According to the U.S. Embassy's deputy chief of mission James Entwistle, estimates vary on the number of people trafficked each year, with figures ranging from the hundreds of thousands to millions.
"Regardless of the exact figure, trafficking is inexcusable. This is why the U.S. government contributed more than 74 million U.S. dollars in 2006 to fund anti-trafficking programmes in 70 countries," he said. The United Nations estimates that the total market value of human trafficking is 32 billion dollars. "We worked with organisations and talked with experts to see what forms of trafficking we would focus on, the most prevalent forms that affect our audiences. We selected regions that would best represent the issue. Then, finally we brought in a production team, led by a Thai producer and a director from the UK," MTV Thailand campaign director Simon Goff told IPS. Goff said that it took them six weeks of pre-production work, including research and sourcing, another six weeks to shoot the documentary, and six weeks more of post-production work. It took about four and a half months of "solid production," he added.
Beyond the emotional and disturbing accounts of the trafficking survivors and the disturbing re-enactments of rape, beatings and abuse, the documentary also had interviews with a trafficker and a 'client' who openly admitted to the crime.
In an interview with 'The Chairman', a Filipino recruiter who forces young girls into prostitution revealed the horrific experiences young girls go through, and this has reinforced by what "Ama", a Chinese client who admitted to paying for sex with trafficked girls, narrated. Asked how they were able to get such interviewees, Goff said, "We had a very, very good production team. In fact, the victims in the story were the easiest people to find. It was The Chairman and Ama who were the two hardest characters to get hold of."
According to Goff, the producers sought the help of 'fixers', usually journalists, who could give them contacts. "After talking with different contacts, we were able to contact the Filipino trafficker, told him we want him to be in our show, and he agreed -- with no strings attached," said Goff. "When the crew began filming, he was obviously a bit wary. But interestingly enough, towards the end of the shoot, he relaxed a bit and gave the film crew fantastic access. He was walking through his brothels, showing the crew what he's doing and giving them a view of his world and revealing exactly how he works. What was even incredible is, by the end of the shoot, he agreed to be on camera completely. It was amazing."
MTV, however, decided not to reveal the identity of the trafficker, out of concern for the safety of their contacts. "We felt it might endanger the journalists who found this person for us. If something happens to him based on his involvement in this, and the fixer and the fixer's family have something happen to them, it would be our responsibility," he explained.
Calling the campaign "tragic" because of its disturbing nature, Tata Young said that she felt "sick" after the first day of shooting her spiels. "I went home and vomited because of what I've seen about the abuse of these young people. It hurts me so much and I will definitely try my best to help in raising awareness about the plight of trafficked people and how we can best prevent this from happening," she said.
The challenge now, said Goff, is to break the people's apathy and denial about human trafficking. "Ultimately, time will tell. We have launched the campaign and it's already out there in the media. We hope that the show will make people realise that they are both a part of and a solution to the problem," he said. In Thailand's case, he added that it is also important for Thais to realise that it is not just about Thai victims being trafficked abroad, but it's also "necessary to look that we have other nationalities, such as Min Aung, who has been trafficked here".
According to http://www.HumanTrafficking.org, an online resource for combating human trafficking, Thai women are trafficked to Australia, Bahrain, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Europe and North America for commercial sexual exploitation. On the other hand, significant numbers of Burmese, Laos, Cambodian and Chinese end up working in plantations, the fishing industry, and commercial sex work, among others, in Thailand. "Thailand is a massive destination and a transit country and trafficking is particularly prevalent here. In a way, it's been reported so much that the people have become apathetic. We want to try to jar them out of that state and convince them to start acting against trafficking again," said Goff.
He added that the documentary has practical suggestions on how to curb trafficking in people, including through education and information to prevent more young people from being lured into the illicit trade. "In all, it is a global campaign given a local content. We want our audience to feel that they're a part of something wider but that it also concerns the local community," he said.
Adapted from: Lynette Lee Corporal. "Rights-Asian: MTV turns spotlight on human trafficking." IPS News. 5 September 2007.
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