Friday, January 2, 2009

Vietnamese censorship muzzles news media

Newspapers and the Internet are read avidly in Vietnam

Vietnamese media sackings shock

Friday, 2 January 2009
By Giang Nguyen
BBC Vietnamese Service, London

In a new year shock the two largest pro-reform newspapers lost their chief editors in the last hours of 2008.
The farewell party at New Year's Eve to Mr Nguyen Cong Khe at Thanh Nien newspaper was described by an insider as "tearful".

Tuoi Tre's boss Le Hoang was reported to have agreed with his redeployment to a new job in the publishing business.

But moves by the ruling party to put more restrictions on the media has not stopped with these Southern newspapers.

More sackings

Vietnamese media reports confirm that two other newspapers, Legality and Saigon Business People, also lost their editors-in-chief in December 2008.

Just two months earlier, Mr Ly Tien Dzung, a veteran journalist and the editor of Dai Doan Ket paper, was 'disciplined' and sacked for publishing a letter by General Vo Nguyen Giap criticizing the current leadership's handling of a public construction project.

But the year 2008 ended most unfortunately for Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre because their reporters, Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai, had been picked to stand trial in October for vigorous reporting of a major corruption case.

They seem to fall victim of a new policy pursued by the Communist party to tighten its control over the flow of news and information, both in the state-run media and the private blogosphere that has been booming in Vietnam in the last two years.

For the government, the technological development and commercialisation of the 20-million web-user media market in Vietnam requires more adequate regulations.

Internet dilemma

The need to build new legal frameworks for the media to operate for the good of Vietnam was confirmed by Mr Luu Vu Hai, chief of the Administration Agency for Radio, Television and Electronics Information at the Ministry of Information and Communications.

Last October he was quoted as saying: "Every country has its own law and all activities must follow its laws in order to guarantee the social benefits."

A new law in 2009 explicitly bans bloggers from discussing politically sensitive subjects and demands that all journalists reveal their sources of information.

Those who dare to break these rules set by the Party would face up to $12,000 (£8,000) in fines or 12 years in jail.

At the same time, the government officially encourages Internet use in an attempt to make use of information technologies to modernise the Vietnamese economy and improve business efficiency.

Media watchdog and human rights organisations have raised concerns about restrictions imposed upon both newspapers and blogs.

International donors such as the European Union and the Asian Development Bank have also urged Vietnam to accept a more active role of media in fighting corruption and getting citizens involved in public affairs.

Unhappy new year

However, with Vietnam's economy slowing - with imported energy and food costs pushed up and inflation soaring to more than 20% in the last quarter of 2008 - more social dissenters could want to make their voices heard in the coming months.

For now at least, the government does not have to worry about any rebellious action at the Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre newspapers.

The two newspapers, still without nominees for editors-in-chief, are run by some deputies acting up.

The staff seem in no mood to celebrate the Lunar New Year coming later this January.

"A sad and miserable new year has come," says Hoang Hai Van, a former Thanh Nien sub-editor in his blog.


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