State Firing of Vietnamese Editors Latest Sign of Shrinking Press Freedom in SE Asia

January 05, 2009 02:14 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Vietnamese authorities continue to tighten control over the media, a troubling trend that is persisting in the region and worldwide.

Editors Fired After Covering Government Corruption

Nguyen Cong Khe, editor in chief of the newspaper Thanh Nien and Le Hoang, who edited the publication Tuoi Tre, were fired just months after two of their reporters had gone on trial over their coverage of a major government corruption case, and both papers had been leaders in investigating graft.

Vietnam’s Communist authorities have in recent months been tightening control of the media, which has long been under strict government monitoring, with a new policy to crack down on both state-run media and the blogosphere. Two other publications, Legality and Saigon Business People, lost their editors-in-chief in December.

Bloggers in particular, who have become more and more daring in criticizing the authorities and writing about controversial topics that are not covered by the state-run media, are the target of one new law, which bans them from discussing “politically sensitive subjects” and requires that they reveal all of their sources. Those who violate the rules face up to $12,000 in fines or jail time. International watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders has named Vietnam one of 13 countries that are “enemies of the Internet” and, according to PBS, Vietnam had nine cyber-dissidents in detention in December.

One student blogger, who goes by the Internet alias “Mr. Cold,” holds strong antigovernment views. “They (state media) decide what we will hear, what we will read and what we will see,” he said. “They are slaves of the communists.”

Background: Press freedom in Southeast Asia

According to the World Association of Newspapers, the region saw numerous press freedom violations in the last half of 2008.

In nearby Burma, where media and access to the Internet are severely restricted, the military government recently released a list of rules that editors must follow or risk imprisonment or suspension of publishing rights. Since November, nearly 100 people have been put on trial for media-related violations, including blogger and human rights activist Maung Thura, who was given 45 years in jail for videotaping Cyclone Nargis’ aftermath.

Cambodia has seen several attacks on journalists reporting on government corruption. Most notably, journalist Khim Sambo was shot to death in July after writing about corruption in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Some news outlets speculated that national police chief Hok Lundy was involved in the murder, and accused police of a cover-up.

In Thailand, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance released a statement in August condemning a mob attack on a state-run TV station in Bangkok. Thailand’s National Broadcasting Television station was attacked on Aug. 28 by armed men who claimed to be part of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, who accused the station of being a government mouthpiece.

According to the World Association of Newspapers, Asia as a whole has seen a rise in violence against journalists last year, and government restrictions continue to hamper press freedom in the region, particularly in China, which restricted foreign reporting and blocked Web sites related to Tibet during the Beijing Olympics.

Related Topic: Annual journalism report shows fewer deaths, fewer freedoms

In 2008, Reporters Without Borders continued to raise concerns about threats to freedom of the press worldwide, despite a decrease in the number of journalists who died on the job last year. It attributed the drop to fewer journalists’ deaths in Iraq and said the number also indicated a rise in journalists leaving the profession. Its annual report also raised concerns about increasing censorship and the compromising of journalists’ rights.

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