Vietnam: Two papers suspended for reporting on banknote problems

New York, October 24, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the suspension of two newspapers in Vietnam that reported on corruption and printing problems with the country’s new non-paper banknotes. The Ministry of Culture and Information slapped a one-month ban on two small newspapers and was considering disciplinary measures against other, more widely read newspapers in connection with their critical reporting on the new notes, according to international news reports.

“The media in Vietnam have worked admirably under very restrictive conditions to open up space for reporting and commentary on important public issues,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The suspension of publications is a heavy-handed tactic that seems clearly intended to re-assert the control of the Ministry of Culture and Information over the state-sanctioned media. It is a step backward.”

Cong Ly (Justice), a twice-weekly publication under the administration of the Supreme Court, and Thoi Dai (Times) weekly, under the supervision of a government agency dealing with foreign organizations, were suspended for violating the press law and disobeying government orders, state media reported on Saturday. Authorities were also considering measures against other publications, including popular newspapers Tuoi Tre (Youth) and Thanh Nien (Young People).

Local media recently ran a series of articles highlighting misprints and other problems with the new plastic polymer banknotes, which replaced paper notes. Some published allegations that the son of a high-level banking official had profited from the printing contract.

The press in Vietnam operates under the oversight of the Ministry of Culture and Information, which delivers regular instructions on reporting to print, broadcast and Internet media and oversees their administration. While independent publishing is illegal under restrictive press laws, the media in Vietnam have been increasingly bold in covering government corruption.

In July, the government announced a new system of fines for journalists and news organizations who defy official orders on reporting.