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Vietnam’s Murky Media Picture (Page 3 of 3)

If true, it would be in keeping with the common practice of shunting editors to dull ministry jobs and appointing bureaucrats rather than newsmen to senior positions in the media.

‘He (Tuan) is talented, a visionary, but not universally popular,’ said one former colleague who asked not to be named. ‘It's not just his willingness to push the envelope with stories advocating more openness in the party and government. Tuan's relative flamboyance doubtless annoys many in the relentlessly grey upper reaches of the system.’  

And now, journalists have a new, hazy press law from these same upper reaches to contend with. Decree No. 2 went into effect in late February, but was already being reported on in the local press in January.

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Human Rights Watch, in a February 24 press release, called it a ‘further blow to freedom of expression in Vietnam’ and criticized the law’s ‘overly vague and broad’ provisions, including allowing for fines for journalists and their newspapers of between $50 and $2000. 

According to the new rules, reporters must always publish their sources of information, while numerous government departments now have the authority to investigate and punish infractions. This, according to HRW, is a particularly bad idea in a country where corruption is ‘endemic.’ It may also make for confusing regulation, given the sometimes chaotic nature of cooperation between departments and Vietnam’s slow, disorganized bureaucracy. 

But there is a bright spot. As one Vietnamese journalist speaking off-the-record pointed out, the law also includes provisions for punishing government departments that fail to assist the media with enquiries. This could have real implications in a country where many government officials are wary of speaking to reporters, either because they don’t know what they are allowed to say, because they're scared of looking ignorant, or just because they can’t be bothered.

State ownership, interference, crackdowns and arrests are all undoubtedly features of Vietnam’s media. But the complicated relationship between reporters and the government suggest it’s more than just propaganda.

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