Migrant workers who leave their job is a newsworthy topic. Reporting on workers who abscond, risking deportation and imprisonment, can expose the structural unfairness of their terms of employment. It’s an opportunity to show the effects of the excessive brokerage fees and debt bondage workers can be entrapped in and justifiably seek to escape from.

There’s an abundance of stories and legal cases that can serve this goal. Over 46,000 migrant workers were “out of contact” with their employer and the government as of June 2019. More than a thousand new cases were registered that month alone.

Over the past weekend, one of the many “missing” migrant workers made it to the local media headlines. Taiwan’s more reputable media organizations, including Central News Agency (CNA) and the Taipei Times, reported on this worker’s arrest. The titles of both stories referred to the worker’s HIV serostatus. Chinese-language headlines even went as far as to suggest the worker had many sexual encounters.

A lurid interest in Taiwanese boyfriends, abortion, and petty crime were present in the body of the articles. No attempt was made to report on why she left her employer or quote her side of the story. Most outlets, quoting the Ministry of Health, framed her “running around” as a public health concern.

Instead of reporting on the circumstances that cause migrant workers to leave their employers without notice, much of the Taiwanese media ran a story devoid of any legitimate public interest. The headlines and articles were irrelevant and insulting, reducing the worker to her private life.

The framing of the story could not have been more precisely calibrated to gin up anti-migrant worker sentiment. Fortunately, they generally so poorly written and executed that they won't be very effective as anti-migrant propaganda. Criticism of the coverage on Taiwanese social media was withering.

The incident proves false the idea that major, respectable news publications are impartial reporters of facts, immune to bias. Beneath the objective sounding tone of these articles is a view that migrant workers have no legitimate grievances and are a burden on Taiwanese society, when their economic and social role in fact supports an aging, declining population. The media ought to reflect this in their coverage.

Steven Yeo contributed to research.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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