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Vietnam 12 January 2005

Government clamps down on the online press

Reporters Without Borders has condemned a government assault on press freedom, led by politburo ideologue Nguyen Khoa Diem, who has decided to reign in the official press, particularly new websites.

In just three weeks, three publications - Tuoi Tre, and - have been banned or brought to book.

The worldwide press freedom organisation also deplored legal action against Nguyen Thi Lan Anh, a journalist on the daily Tuoi Tre. "The Vietnamese authorities view the media as propaganda vehicles," it said. "With less than a year to go to the next Communist Party Congress, they particularly fear websites, even official ones, since they are a sounding board for popular discontent."

"We need to support this young generation of journalists who want to report on the news as it is and not be used as mouthpieces for the regime," it said.

Nguyen Thi Lan Anh was charged on 5 January 2005, with posting two briefs quoting a note from the Health Minister classified as a "state secret". In it the minister called for an investigation into the abnormally high prices set by pharmaceutical business Zuellig Pharma VN. Tuoi Tre (Youth), one of Vietnam’s rare investigative publications, has been targeted by the government for several years.

Vietnamese Prime Minister, Pham Van khai, on 8 November 2004, called for disciplinary steps to be taken against online press agency, run by Internet provider FTP - a state-owned company. It followed a demand for intervention by the Ministry of Culture and Information over "erroneous" articles published by the agency. The offending articles reported on government purchase of 78 Mercedes for the Europe-Asia (ASEM), in October 2004. It unleashed a wave of readers’ letter denouncing the import of luxury vehicles. Vnexpress posted some of the reactions, which appeared to particularly provoke the government’s ire. The editor and the journalists involved in the story were reportedly subjected to disciplinary action.

The website (Vietnam News) was closed around 10 January on the order of the Ministry of Culture and Information. The site chiefly dealt with cultural and economic stories. As in the case of Vnexpress, it was posting readers’ letters that was believed to have prompted the ban.

This clampdown on the media has been orchestrated by Nguyen Khoa Diem, head of the party central committee’s ideology and culture commission. In recent months he has publicly insisted on several occasions on the need to bring into line a press, which he said, chased after sensationalism and profit rather than confining itself to putting out government ideology.

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