Alert against the argument “absolute freedom of the press”
The Vice-President of the Vietnam Veterans Association, Lieutenant-General Phung Khac Dang, said: “Over the past years, hostile forces have used the pretext of “freedom of the press” and “freedom of speech” to attack and damage our thought and cultural bases by resorting to their empty rhetoric and irrational and short-sighted arguments without any practical experiences in Vietnam. PANO posted a series of articles to display lively practices of press freedom, speech freedom and internet freedom in Vietnam was necessary. With many pieces of evidence, clear statistics and rational arguments, the articles indeed brought an insight into the Vietnamese people’s current exercises of press and internet rights in Vietnam.”
Citing Karl Marx’ words, the old soldier said, “Freedom is the consciousness of necessity”. This should be understood, that based on objective conditions, specific situations and the political system, a country would determine the regime, policies, legal framework and so on for its people to practice freedom of the press. The press is a particular and sensitive issue so that it is not fair to impose the standards for press freedom of one country on another. Moreover, nations in the world all want their press sector to maximally serve their national interests. For Vietnam, the practice of press rights should serve a majority of the population for the sake of national prosperity, democracy, equality, civilisation as well as political stability, social safety and security and a healthy cultural environment. Any exercises of press rights that meet these ends will be encouraged in Vietnam.
Vietnamese newspapers and mass media have the right to give multidimensional information and viewpoints on events, happenings and issues as well as to participate in public criticism, the Lieutenant-General stressed. In Vietnam, different newspapers and mass media firms can have their own different analyses and opinions on each issue in their publications. In fact, different press and media agencies have different principles and readers and they more often explore and examine issues and events in their own ways to meet the need of their readers. Over the past years, the Party and State have continuously created the most favourable conditions for press activities. Still, all press opinions, information and criticism should be on a scientific basis, with goodwill and, first and foremost, for common interests of the nation, society and in the direction toward the true, the good and the beautiful. Alongside the encouragement of press activities, Vietnamese people are also aware of and alert against those who make use of press freedom to make rash speeches with their own motives and hostile attempts to oppose the Party, State and the political system, which a majority of the population has chosen to follow, he added.
Doctor Cao Duc Thai, former Director of the Human Right Institute of the Ho Chi Minh National Administration and Politics Academy said: “Rights of speech and the press are basic human rights, which the Party and State view as the attribute and nature of our regime.”
But he underlined that hostile forces usually seek their own ways to speak ill of, and distort the reality of press freedom in Vietnam by saying: “There is no democracy, human rights, including press freedom and speech freedom in Vietnam.” As in other countries, no Vietnamese press agencies and no journalists have the rights to stand outside of the law but all have to abide by the law, regulations, ethic values, standards, customs and practices of the community. Any breaches of the law will surely pay a price and that is a normal practice in any country. He gave an example of the case where the newspaper, “The News of the World” closed down and a public criminal inquiry by the British authorities was begun when its reporters illegally broke into the local SMS system to get private SMS messages of mobile phone subscribers and then publish the information in the newspaper. This indicates that no countries in the world permits press agencies and reporters to act outside of the law. In other words, the so-called “absolute freedom to the press” exists nowhere and the press as a professional association in a country must comply with the law and cannot have the right to violate other rights of people and must not insult the common values and the noble cause of a community and nation as a whole.
Free press activities in Vietnam
Correspondent, Doctor Phung Thao, former Director of the Hai Phong Radio and Television Station, said that one who wishes to thoroughly understand the proper rights of the press should start with questions like: “The press for whom? Of whom, and relied on by whom?” Since its foundation, Vietnamese revolutionary press has always accompanied the nation, closely associated with national destiny, functioned as a dear companion of Vietnamese people and served as a bridge between the Party, State and working people. During peacetime, especially since the Doi Moi cause in 1986, the Vietnamese press has proved itself to be a leading force in the thought and culture front, actively reflected on the most pressing issues and indeed provided additional vitality for the national Doi Moi process.
He stressed that facts have shown that Vietnamese press has been harmoniously reflecting on both the Party’s will and people’s thinking. This is the unique unchanged feature, which demonstrates the vanguard, revolutionary and popular nature of Vietnamese press. Vietnamese press has set for itself such major functions and objectives as: reflecting and orienting public opinion and serving as a forum for all social strata to exercise their freedom of speech, as Article 6 of the 1989 Press Law defines. Therefore, it is unconvincing and irrational when it is said that the Vietnamese press is not of the people, is not relied on by the people and is not for people. Acknowledging these functions and objectives, Vietnamese newspapers and mass media exercise proper freedoms of the press and back people of all classes and social layers in better performing their right of speech, he concluded.
Meanwhile, young journalist Nguyen Gia Tuong with Today’s Rural Newspaper (Báo Nông thôn ngày nay) said: “I like travelling everywhere to write investigative reports for my newspaper. When I first worked as a journalist, I thought that defence and security was a “restricted zone”, where only reporters from defence newspapers could enter. With time, I now know that there is no “restricted zone” for Vietnamese reporters in Vietnam. In fact, I have been to Truong Sa (Spratly Islands), and a number of military units at borders and islands. One should know that there are no barriers or restrictions against Vietnamese reporters provided they follow the law. In fact, we are provided with the best conditions to do our jobs and have real freedom of the press when we work with State agencies, military units, organisations and people across the country.”
Yet, it must be understood that reporters are citizens of a country and they have citizenship obligations to follow laws and regulations of their country, he emphasised. According to him, reporters should also have responsibilities to reflect the truth and to serve the public, people, society and national interests.
“For me, Vietnamese reporters have sufficient rights and freedom to do their jobs,” he affirmed.
Ensuring security of internet information
The internet is one of the greatest inventions and a common achievement of human beings. In globalisation and international integration, countries take full advantage of the internet’s benefits for their development. In other words, no one can deny the benefits of the internet. But everything has two sides and so does the internet.
This requires nations to maximise the benefits on one hand and to minimise the negative effects on the other hand.
Like other nations, Vietnam has some measures to prevent the possible bad effects of the internet.
Lawyer Vi Van Minh at the Hanoi Bar Association said that, together with issuing a number of legal documents to boost the internet’s development in Vietnam, the Vietnamese Government has also promulgated decrees to better manage the internet in Vietnam. The first one is Decree 55/2001/NĐ-CP issued on August 23 rd , 2001 on the management, supply and uses of internet services, which was then replaced by Decree 97/2008/NĐ-CP issued on August 28 th , 2008 on the management, supply, uses of internet services and online information. Now the Ministry has been entrusted to draw another document to replace Decree 97/2008/NĐ-CP as internet development, internet services and the use of the internet have changed so fast in Vietnam. The lawyer unveiled that the future legal document will not restrict the use of the internet or prevent people from accessing internet services as unfriendly forces have said. Rather, it will create a more open legal framework for Vietnamese people to access the internet and online services. This will provide the most favourable conditions for sustainable development of the internet and its services, while managing them effectively, scientifically and appropriately with the real situation in Vietnam.
“This is a normal move in response to fast changes in internet development, which countries often do,” he said.
Sharing the view, Chief of Department A87 of the Security General Department 2, the Ministry of Public Security, Major-General Bui Van Co affirmed that Vietnam has never issued a document to prohibit or to restrict the internet development, the use of the internet or the business of internet services providers. Yet, this does not mean the internet and its services develop out of control. By contrast, Vietnam strives for a healthy development of the internet by setting up a legal corridor to only prevent bad effects of the internet. In fact, all nations in the world have to do so.
What Vietnam should do is to filter bad information that does harm to its citizens, political stability, social order and national security, he said. In fact, the measures Vietnam have been taking, and will take, are aimed to protect citizens from “toxic” information, are a necessary job a state should do and to ensure the proper rights of its citizens to access the internet and its services as well as to best gain the benefits of the internet, he said. Translated by Thu Nguyen