Thursday, January 1, 2009

Vietnam Outlaws News Blogs, Claims Foreign Servers Will Help, UN Security Council Review

In the global blogosphere, who's watching whom?

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: New Media Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, January 1 -- Vietnam in late 2008 moved to regulate the blogosphere, dictating that blogs remain entirely "personal" and not purport to report any news, much less state secrets. The Vietnam government stated that services such as Google and Yahoo will help them enforce these "no news on blogs" rules. While Yahoo did turn in a Chinese dissident blogger to the government in Beijing, and Google has a history of "disappearing" content apparently at its powerful partners' request, Vietnam's claims seem anachronistic.

On December 31, Inner City Press was asked by Vietnam's mission to the United Nations to appear on Vietnam TV to review the country's year on the Security Council, judged to be one of the "Top Ten Vietnam News Stories of 2008." While Vietnam has sought to keep human rights violations from Myanmar to Zimbabwe off the Security Council's agenda, its diplomats have not been unwilling to answer the Press' questions. During Vietnam's presidency of the Council in July, its Ambassador memorably told Inner City Press, when asked about a request for Council action by Cambodia in its UNESCO-enabled border dispute with Thailand, that "meeting postpone, issue disappears."

But in Vietnam itself, the goal seems to be to have news and social critique disappear from the Internet. In November, Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Information and Communications (MoIC) Do Quy Doan argued that "as blogs are personal sites, bloggers are not allowed to use blogs to promote anti-state activities, war and obscenity, or to offend the honor or prestige of organizations and individuals or to release secret state documents."

Doan subsequently signed into law circular 07/2008/TB-BTTT which provides that blogs shall not even "post links which go to information that violate Article 6 of Decree 97/2008, banning anyone who takes advantage of the Internet to deliver distorted information [or] reveal state secrets."

One step down the bureaucratic ladder, the Chief of the MoIC’s Broadcasting, Television and Electronic Information Control Agency, Luu Vu Hai argued that "when we use the press freedom right we have to obey the Press Law and we couldn't use the press freedom right in a non-press environment."

At a press conference about the circular, Doan was asked how the government would "prevent 'black' blogs, blogs that are contrary to Vietnamese customs and habits?" He answered that "most bloggers in Vietnam are using services supplied by foreign service providers... After the circular takes effect in 2009, the two sides will exchange information and cooperate with each other. I think service providers also wish to have a clean Internet environment. I think if state agencies of Vietnam ask for cooperation, Google or Yahoo will be willing too."

Again, we hope this is unlikely, even though Yahoo did turn in a Chinese dissident blogger to the government in Beijing, and Google has a history of "disappearing" content apparently at its powerful partners' request, click here for that.

Deputy Minister Doan went on to note that "some say that blogs are personal diaries. If they are personal diaries, they should be kept for their authors, or their friends or relatives. If they are opened for the public, they are not personal diaries anymore, but become electronic information pages... Blogs don't represent any organization or release orthodox information."

But corporations now promote themselves with blogs. The UN in December invited Inner City Press to make a presentation at an event promoting the use of blogs, click here for the UN's summary of the session. The UN, not only an organization but calling itself "The Organization," brags about its own blogs. Would they be illegal in Vietnam? Will the UN, though its compromised UNESCO or otherwise, say anything about this? organization but calling itself "


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