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In June 2012, after nine months of research, "Ghost Fleet" Producer Shannon Service and Field Producer Becky Palmstrom’s two part series for National Public Radio (NPR) was broadcast to some 25 million listeners across America. To make it happen, Shannon and Becky spoke with actors across Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand – from ambassadors to local non-governmental organizations.
The impact was immediate - the pages of The Bangkok Post exploded with commentary while ordinary people, from New Zealand to Hawaii, forwarded the pieces to their friends. The series also caught the eyes of academics and industry experts like Katrina Nakamura.
Katrina works for the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, a non-governmental organization that works closely with seafood supply chains to reduce the environmental impacts of fishing and fish farming. Inspired by the series, Nakamura launched an initiative to create a much-needed tool to clean up seafood supply chains.
“Without a doubt the NPR piece was the catalyst for this initiative,” she says. “It sparked the coming together of a number of unaffiliated individuals that rapidly became a network for change.”
The network includes UN agencies in Myanmar and Thailand, retailers Walmart and Sam's Club and an array of scientists, researchers, industry associations and supporters in the region and around the world.
“The NPR piece was the first credible story of the issue to reach the mainstream,” she says. “Already the impact has been considerable. Our contacts in the seafood industry and donor community around sustainable seafood heard the story. My neighbors also heard the story and started to ask questions. Having Becky and Shannon in Myanmar, so close to the problem and still willing to continue, gave us the confidence to design a solution.”
Nakamura was not the only person to be moved to action. From comments on NPR’s website to the creation of a Facebook page asking people to boycott Thai fish and the sharing of the pieces through activist networks like Human Rights Watch, this series continues to ripple out in unforeseen, but powerful ways. It sparked a conversation inside Greenpeace about how to support investigative environmental journalism and the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons division uses it as education pieces on the topic.
“The NPR piece helped to bring international attention to the plight of fishermen in the Mekong Region. With so much confusion about human trafficking, it broke the issue down and helped add real conceptual clarity. It also stimulated a lot of discussion and movement on the issue. A full-length film on the topic now would act as a catalyst to help the counter trafficking community to organize a united response.”
- Matthew Friedman, Regional Project Manager from the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking.