Review: CNN Freedom Project
CNN has launched a 2011 news campaign called the CNN Freedom Project.
According the project’s website, CNN hopes the project will “join the fight to end modern-day slavery and shine a spotlight on the horrors of modern-day slavery, amplify the voices of the victims, highlight success stories and help unravel the complicated tangle of criminal enterprises trading in human life.”
Since their work has been underway for a few months now, I thought I’d highlight some of the great stuff they’re doing and ways to improve their work and its effectiveness as they continue for the rest of the year.
A Good Introduction to Modern-Day Slavery
If you’re new to the issue of modern-day slavery or want to learn more about it in a way that’s interesting and not overly technical, the Freedom Project would be a great place to start.
Because of CNN’s resources, the project can report broadly on this global issue and get stories that otherwise might not be told. They are able to produce gripping and visually appealing content in a consistent way.
Their section called “The Facts” offers clear and basic information on human trafficking. Rather than over-sharing statistics and technical reports, leaving people feeling like outsiders, CNN has made the issue seem a little more conquerable. It is possible to get your head around the situation, the project suggests – at least enough to want to learn more.
It would be nice if the site could include both introductory and advanced resources, perhaps in separate sections – particularly legal information divided by state about what constitutes human trafficking and why arrests are not more common. But I appreciate the site’s approachability for newcomers, and I’m glad it isn’t stuffed too full of jargon.
(If you do want to learn more in detail about legislation and domestic policy on human-trafficking, you can learn from Polaris Project’s resources.)
An Opportunity to Raise Awareness
I really appreciate how well CNN has leaned on outside experts and NGO’s. After all, who knows better about this issue than the people working in it every day? Guest bloggers and segments that spotlight abolitionist groups reinforce the community aspect of the anti-slavery movement and how interdependent the organizations are that fight these crimes.
The section on “Life in Slavery” offers a place for survivors’ stories and serves as a strong reminder of why the abolition movement is still so necessary and important.
Way the Project Can Improve: Organization of Content
The simplicity of the Freedom Project’s content in sections like “The Facts” is disrupted by the placement of other CNN stories throughout the site. Below an article about slavery you might find links to an article about Lindsay Lohan or Osama bin Laden. Such self-promotion is to be expected, but it is also confusing for people exploring the site.
The “How You Can Help” section could use significant improvement. Like the rest of the site, this category reads like a blog, and so rather than finding a simple, straightforward list of ideas on how to get involved in the abolition movement, readers have to scroll down and search for various articles that might relate to them.
Within that section, CNN has a great post called “The CNN Freedom Project: How to Help,” which includes a list of NGO’s, a parents’ and educators’ guide, and a link to the signs of human trafficking to help people know when and what to report if they see something. It is a shame that this post, along with the extensive list of non-profits working to end slavery, are not more prominent on the site and easier to find.
In addition, CNN includes a country-by-country list of non-profit anti-trafficking groups, but has left out groups working in some of the areas most devastated by human trafficking, including:
- the Chinese/North Korean border (where North Korean refugees are funneled into the slave trade every day)
- the Dominican Republic (where Haitian children are being trafficked at an alarming rate)
- and Mexico (While much of the trafficking of Mexican ends in the United States, it has to start somewhere.)
I hope CNN will be adding more of these organizations to their list during the rest of their project.
Way the Project Can Improve: Holding Industries Accountable
The last and I think most obvious fault of the project is that it lacks a detailed list of organizations committed to slave-free products. In their post “How to Help: Business and Consumers” they discuss a handful of groups and focus strongly on The Body Shop’s commitment to ethical production. Their post “How you can help: Slavery in the supply chain” offers a little more detail, but again focuses very specifically on a select few businesses.
I am not the first person to complain about this obvious absence. While the site is an excellent resource in other ways, the comments section is filled with people wanting to know more about what goods are slave-free and how to know that you are supporting slave-free production.
I can only assume the cause for this oversight on the part of the project’s leadership: CNN is for-profit, and thus at the mercy of advertisers. How could they put out a complete list of producers committed to slave-free production if those organizations are their advertisers’ competitors?
While exploring the site, I saw ads from the clothing, food and electronics industries that all use slavery in their supply chain. For example, right next to an article on business and consumer responsibility, I saw an ad for Samsung – a brand that has room to grow in regards to their use of conflict minerals (and thus child slavery) in their supply chain.
Such is the state of the modern media – and it’s a big reason why projects like this one end up losing to corporate Goliaths who would rather not have to deal with their corrupt production systems.
Until media organizations are willing and able to stand up to McDonalds and Wal-Mart and Apple and Nestlé and all of the huge industries profiting from modern-day slavery, we will lack the prophetic voice that journalism is meant to have, and campaigns like the CNN Freedom Project will end up more toothless than they should and could be.