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Last Updated: Friday, 14 January, 2005, 16:36 GMT
Vietnam tightens media stranglehold
By Nga Pham
BBC Vietnamese service

When Lan Anh, a staff writer for the popular daily Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, wrote a series of articles on Zuellig Pharma last year, she was hailed for brilliant investigative reporting.

The Hong Kong-based Zuellig Pharma, via its Singapore office, had been monopolising the Vietnamese pharmaceutical market for almost three years and had bumped up the prices of some popular medicines to "unacceptable levels".
Vietnamese internet cafe
The government particularly fears websites

The public responded positively and gratefully to Lan Anh's reports.

Yet the journalist is now facing legal action from the government for "appropriating state secrets", which the Health Ministry said were included in the notes she published in her newspaper.

The move against Lan Anh has shocked and outraged the Vietnamese public.

But it is unfortunately not the only time the government is alleged to have harassed the media.

During the last couple of months, the government has decided to shut down one of the country's most popular news and entertainment websites, tintucvietnam.com, as well as to sack the editor-in-chief of the leading online newspaper, Vnexpress.

Tintucvietnam.com and Vnexpress had both carried reports that the government was importing unnecessarily expensive limousines from abroad.
Last year the government also introduced a highly controversial regulation that requires all internet cafes to register the personal details of customers

The government said it needed the cars for the Asia Europe Summit (Asem) in October 2004, but readers' letters published by Vnexpress showed the public was angry about the amount of money it spent.

The Ministry of Information has fined Vinacomm, the company that owns tintucvietnam.com, 20m dong (1,268), and has closed it "until further notice" for operating without a proper licence.

Before this decision, there were threats that the website would be shut down for good, and its fate remains unknown.

As for Vnexpress, its editor was sacked and the online newspaper has since noticeably toned down its news coverage.

Control

Critics say the latest events show the Vietnamese government is tightening its grip on the media, especially online services.

"With less than a year to go to the next Communist Party Congress, they (the Vietnamese government) particularly fear websites, even official ones, since they are a sounding board for popular discontent," the press watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres has said in a statement.

Last year the government also introduced a highly controversial regulation that requires all internet cafes to register the personal details of customers.

The government claims it just wants to "fight pornography and evil influences from the West", not to limit the public in any way.

But its actions suggest otherwise, and leave people wondering how long it can try and control the media in an era of rapidly developing information services.


SEE ALSO:
Vietnam slow to study political reform
22 Oct 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Vietnam net dissident jailed
18 Jun 03 |  In Depth
Country profile: Vietnam
08 Jan 05 |  Country profiles


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