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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - MTV EXIT only told one side of trafficking story

MTV EXIT only told one side of trafficking story


The voices of non-trafficked sex workers were totally excluded


By Sara Bradford


Young people enjoy the performances at Friday’s MTV EXIT concert in Phnom Penh, but some say the music channel’s campaign has been too narrow and biased.

MTV EXIT, an anti-trafficking campaign funded by USAID, has just finished a whirlwind tour of Cambodia. MTV EXIT has held concerts featuring internationally known pop groups and local musicians in four locations throughout the country to raise awareness of the risks of trafficking in Asia.  

MTV EXIT has the potential to be an incredible platform for the issues within Cambodia surrounding trafficking. However, the issue of the heavily-scrutinised new anti-trafficking law has been completely ignored throughout the campaign. Indeed, the campaign has failed on many levels, the most important of which are firstly, their complete disconnect from the needs of the Cambodian community and secondly, the fact that the opinions they have provided to their viewers only represent one small portion of the issues at stake.

MTV EXIT clearly did not do their homework on the implications of running a USAID-funded anti-trafficking campaign. The message the world will receive in MTV's 24-minute special will fail to address the real concerns over trafficking in Cambodia - the accusations of serious human rights abuses committed against  people who have been detained under the new US-backed anti-trafficking law. These abuses are most likely a result of the absence of adequate training for police in regards to how the law should be implemented and enforced, coupled with a lack of oversight by the many NGOs and faith-based organisations in Cambodia who are part of the burgeoning but unregulated rescue industry.

On the MTV EXIT website they list partners such as Transitions Cambodia, an anti-trafficking NGO that has a self-professed Christian conversion agenda, with their main partner being Agape (Hebrew for "the love of God"). The services they provide to trafficking victims include restorative dental care for a brand-new smile and therapy through yoga. While dental care and yoga can be important, this is a blatant example of the aforementioned level of disconnect towards the community's actual needs.

The campaign furthers its detachment from the community by limiting their possible partners due to USAID funding restrictions. For example, MTV EXIT cannot broadcast the opinions of sex workers who have not been trafficked, who make up the largest part of the entertainment industry in Cambodia. The EXIT campaign's focus will therefore only broadcast to the world a narrow, biased view of the sex and entertainment industry in Cambodia.

The anti-trafficking movement is fast becoming one of the world's most popular causes, with many NGOs, churches, universities, charities and the media focusing on it. For MTV, a network with one of the largest audiences globally, to spotlight such a huge subject and only provide selective information on the issue is the ultimate insult to its viewers. With MTV being the only source of information on trafficking for many youth, providing them with half the story can only be one thing: deceitful.

While it is crucial for the anti-trafficking issue to be addressed globally, doing so in a way which silences men and women affected by anti-trafficking groups and laws is not a fair message for the so called "MTV generation", as it does not encompass all sides of the issue. In order to create a proper broadcast, one should highlight all sides of the story and allow the viewer to draw their own conclusion. As MTV is a hugely influential network, they should take into consideration the significance of excluding the messages of affected people within their broadcasts.

We hope that in future MTV EXIT will learn from their mistakes and better address the needs of the communities in the countries in which they work and portray all the issues involved in trafficking in an unbiased way.

Sara Bradford is a technical adviser to

the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) in Cambodia.



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