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Vietnam state media trained to protect government policies

Reporters and editors employed by state media outlets in Vietnam are being trained to uphold the views of the ruling Communist Party on human rights, freedom of expression and other politically sensitive topics, sources in the country say.

Vietnam’s government appears especially sensitive to foreign criticism on human rights issues, frequently attacking allegations of abuse or the suppression of free speech as the work of hostile forces, according to rights groups and other activists.

Trainings are now held each year to ensure that those working in Vietnam’s state-owned media work within limits set by the government and ruling party, Nguyen Ngoc Vinh — former managing editor of the country’s popular Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper — told RFA in an interview.

“Vietnamese law already clearly stipulates that the media in Vietnam are a tool of the party and state, and fighting against ‘hostile forces’ is just one of the goals the media has to achieve,” Vinh said.

A training course recently held in northern Vietnam’s Ninh Binh province, and reported in an article on Monday by the country’s Labour newspaper, served to remind the reporters, editors and other staff attending of their role in affirming “the party’s guidelines in media affairs,” Vinh said.

“Those guidelines have been agreed by the media in Vietnam at all levels, and they are that caution must be used in reporting on human rights issues. That’s it!” he added.

Employees of state media in Vietnam are also instructed to guide public opinion on politically sensitive and controversial cases, Vinh said, pointing to the deadly January 2020 clash between land protesters and police at Dong Tam commune outside Hanoi as an example.

At first, only social media covered the killing by police of Dong Tam elder Le Dinh Kinh, but then official media reported the incident, using the police as their only source of information, Vinh said.

“The media rejected all other sources of information, including accounts by local residents who were witnesses to the killing.”

One-sided stories

According to standards of modern reporting, the media must obtain information from different sources in order to get as close to the truth as possible, Vinh said.

“But in Vietnam, the media are only allowed to tell one-sided stories, especially in human rights cases.”

A human rights lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told RFA that the censoring of media by political authorities has badly hurt the defense of human rights in Vietnam.

In a free and democratic society, the media play a critical role in protecting the freedom and dignity of the people, RFA’s source said.

“However, in Vietnam, the media are seen as a tool of the ruling party and government. They lose their function of creativity and criticism, as they are closely controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Central Commission on Education and Communications.

“The media therefore only serve as the authorities’ mouthpiece in cracking down on dissenting voices, providing misleading information to divide people in society, and protecting the ruling elite,” the lawyer said.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Richard Finney.