Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Vietnam
As of December 31, 1998

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Communist Party directives set the tone for Vietnam's media, as political overseers micromanaged news coverage and maintained strict ideological controls on the press, all of which is state-owned.

Early in the year, Communist Party chief Lt. Gen. Le Kha Phieu told a gathering of journalists in Ho Chi Minh City to follow party directives in news coverage. Local branches of the party's Commission on Culture and Ideology meet weekly in every major city to issue instructions on coverage to editors, who pass the word along to their reporters. The party pays particularly close attention to limiting coverage of stories of official corruption that might implicate ranking officials.

"In the last year, things have tightened up. We feel less free now," said a Vietnamese reporter, citing the case of Tamexco, an import-export company that became embroiled in a $40 million corruption scandal. Three top executives of the firm were executed by a firing squad in January, but the story stopped there and the Vietnamese press was told not to pursue the investigation beyond the executives, despite indications that the scandal may have reached deep into the political establishment.

In October, another corruption-related story led to the conviction of Nguyen Hoang Linh, the former editor in chief of the weekly newspaper Doanh Nghiep (Enterprise), on charges of "abusing democracy and damaging state interests." Linh was fired, arrested, and jailed in October 1997 after his newspaper published an unusually detailed series of articles that accused the customs department of corrupt practices in the purchase of second-hand patrol boats.

One happy moment occurred with the September release from prison of Doan Viet Hoat, who was imprisoned in November 1990 for his work as publisher of Dien Dan Tu Do (Freedom Forum), an underground pro-democracy magazine. Hoat, a 1993 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, was exiled to the United States upon his release. Hoat had spent 19 of the past 22 years in jail for crimes related to free expression.

Perhaps in reaction to international condemnation of its dismal human rights record, Vietnamese sources report that the Communist Party is increasingly using orders of "administrative detention," a form of house arrest and police surveillance, against journalists and others. The orders are not subject to court review and receive little publicity.

Controls ban local reporters from "cooperating" or sharing information with foreign correspondents. Foreign news agencies are also required go through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for any local hiring. While Vietnam began allowing direct Internet access to the country in 1997, in December, party officials announced their intention to establish a committee in Ho Chi Minh City to monitor Internet use. It will be charged with "correcting mistakes and bias," according to a report in the influential daily newspaper Liberated Saigon. The report also said that the Commission on Culture and Ideology will draw up plans to stop "negative" information on the Internet, an apparent reference to dissident websites produced outside Vietnam.
Attacks on the Press in Vietnam in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
09/01/98 Doan Viet Hoat, Freedom Forum newsletter Expelled

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