Posts Tagged ‘Viet Nam hypocrisiy’
Jan 15th 2009 | SINGAPORE
The Economist print edition
New limits on the freedom of speech
LIKE their counterparts in China, Vietnam’s ruling Communists seem even more than usually sensitive to criticism. This month two leading reformist newspaper editors, Nguyen Cong Khe, of Thanh Nien (Young People), and Le Hoang, of Tuoi Tre (Youth Daily), were both told that their contracts would not be renewed, apparently because they were too good at their jobs. Their papers have assiduously uncovered official corruption, most notably with a joint exposé in 2006 about a crooked transport-ministry road-building unit. The journalists behind that story were punished by a Hanoi court last October for “abusing democratic freedoms”. Now it looks as if their editors, too, have been culled. A spate of other arrests last year suggests a wider clampdown.
Ever since the start of doi moi (renewal) reforms in 1986, economic liberalisation has been accompanied by a gradual political loosening. There are around 700 newspapers in circulation. All are government controlled, but some are relatively outspoken. Meanwhile, a young, tech-savvy population has taken to reading opinion on the internet, in blogs penned by pseudonymous authors. These commentators are questioning government policy with increasing zeal. A day after the two journalists were arrested last year, their newspapers openly attacked the government’s actions, hitting a few raw nerves. The government now also wants to curb the pesky bloggers, announcing rules in December restricting politically sensitive content on the internet.
One consequence may be a loss of steam in the drive against official corruption. Despite some highly publicised successes, critics contend that only low-ranking officials have so far been charged under a 2005 anti-corruption law. So it looks as if the government has moved to neuter the press before a big fish is caught. But David Koh, of Singapore’s Institute of South-East Asian Studies, says that Vietnamese journalists are not always blameless. Some newspapers, facing intense competition for readers, have resorted to making up the “news”. Tran Le Thuy, a former journalist at Tuoi Tre, argues that in the absence of a proper libel or privacy law, the state has no tools for correcting alleged untruths other than politically-laden charges such as “abusing democratic freedoms”.
All this comes at an inopportune time, as cracks have started to appear in Vietnam’s economy. Fears of a currency crisis shook investor confidence last April. Now, demand for Vietnam’s manufactured exports has plummeted, and foreign investment is likely to be constrained by the global credit shortage. The country faces the prospect of the sharpest economic decline in a generation. The Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company to The Economist, forecasts that growth will slow from 6.1% in 2008 to just 3.2% in 2009.
With thousands of Vietnamese likely to lose their jobs this year, the risk of social unrest in the country will surely rise. The government might be tempted to reassert its authority by quashing all criticism. However, sacking and jailing journalists and bloggers rather than corrupt officials is unlikely to win it many friends.