MOVING BEYOND THE SENSATIONALIZED: A MIXED METHODS APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING SEX TRAFFICKING NEWS COVERAGE IN THAILAND Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
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  • Sobel, Meghan
    • Affiliation: Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Mass Communication Graduate Program
Abstract
  • Human rights violations regularly occur around the globe, sometimes attracting local and international media attention. Such coverage is often criticized for sensationalizing or over-simplifying the issue(s). However, little research has analyzed media representations of such issues, so it is difficult to speak to the validity of those criticisms. This dissertation used news coverage of sex trafficking as a window into how English-language news media in Thailand, a geographic region with an understudied media landscape, represent human rights abuses and frame social problems. By using a mixed methods approach, this study quantified the framing of news coverage with a content analysis and utilized in-depth qualitative interviews with journalists, anti-trafficking advocates, survivors of sex trafficking and consensual sex workers to understand why coverage looks the way(s) that it does and how anti-trafficking advocates can act as media advocates to push coverage in new directions. Findings from this research revealed that the majority of sex trafficking articles were crime-related news stories that focused on trafficked women and children and lacked discussions of risk factors and social status/race indicators such as statelessness. Results also demonstrated that sex trafficking was largely reported on in relation to other countries, yet primarily cited official sources from within Thailand. Victims’ voices were generally absent as were remedies that might help bring an end to trafficking. The interviews revealed a deep contention among respondents regarding the definition of sex trafficking and very unclear notions of choice as a result of social and familial obligations. Additionally, findings demonstrated a tense relationship between journalists and advocates – which resulted in a phenomenon that I termed ‘protective attention directing’ – as well as a similarly adversarial relationship between the Thai police/government and the press, both of which impact coverage of sex trafficking. While this study demonstrated areas in which coverage could be improved and relationships could be strengthened, reporting on sex trafficking is not a static phenomenon; rather, it can be continually reshaped. With effort taken by all parties, it is possible to see news coverage created within journalists’ limitations that is respectful to victims and representative of the complexities of the issue.
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  • In Copyright
Advisor
  • Vargas, Lucila
  • Lefferts, Leedom
  • Friedman, Barbara
  • Meier, Ben
  • Johnston, Anne
Degree
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2015
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
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