The English-language news in Vietnam


By Peter McGregor

The Vietnam News Agency (VNA), based in Hanoi, has recently expanded its English-language publications.

Previously it had been producing only the 16-page weekly bulletin, Vietnam Weekly. In mid-June, VNA began its six-day-a-week daily, Vietnam News. At 1200 dong — just over US$1 — in Hanoi, and 1500 dong (for better quality paper) in Ho Chi Minh City, the four-page tabloid is not aimed at indigenous English speakers (the monthly income for many public servants is around 60,000 dong).

Vietnam News front-pages mainly domestic stories, but also any international news that includes, or impinges upon, Vietnam: for instance, Vietnam-Austalia cooperation on gold mining, a group of US citizens — including war veterans — doing a "peace walk" from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to pressure Bush to lift the economic blockade and diplomatic exchanges.

There are usually two pages of international news, broken up according to continent or region, and with all areas getting some prominence, and not just in terms of crisis news. Supporters of UNESCO's New World Information and Communication Order, please note.

A lengthy interview with a prominent politician or an authoritative "informatorial" is common, as is a display ad for some non-governmental commodity available in Ho Chi Minh City. There is also an occasional column in which English-speaking foreigners give their thoughts on Vietnam.

The back page is usually sport — international sport where often Vietnam fails to get a mention at all — TV and other entertainment and weather (which matters a lot more in a Third World country).

The Yanayev coup in the USSR was reported via Tass while most international stories were taken from the Western news agencies (even the conflicts in Eastern Europe). It hit page one on August 20.

On August 21, while the text of the emergency committee's first decree was published in full via Tass, Bush's statement on the "Soviet overthrow of Gorbachev" was published via Reuter. The range of international opinion on the coup was reported, with "Iraq welcoming Gorbachev's removal", "Bangladesh praising Gorbachev", and "Cuba waiting to see ..." (all via Reuter).

Then on August 22, while a stop-press on page one reported, via Reuter, itself quoting Tass, that Yanayev's emergency committee "had [just] disbanded", Cambodia and China were reported claiming respectively, that the "Soviet coup" or "situation" was an internal affair, via Reuter.

By August 24, when the Vietnamese foreign minister "received the Soviet Ambassador", in Hanoi, post-coup, no mention had been made of the Vietnamese government's attitude.

No response, or "no news" can often be the real news, and in such acute situations for the few remaining Communist governments, it is the most significant and revealing aspect of that particular news story.

With Vietnamese News as a daily, Vietnam Weekly has become more of a news review and cultural magazine, with more focus on the Indochina region, its history and artistic/ethnic traditions.

A current section of interest to Western scholars of the US war is called "A Matter of Conscience": each week a GI who resisted and protested within the US military tells his story (courtesy of the William Joiner Center at the University of Massachusetts).

A measure of the glasnost achievements of both these publications is evident in comparison with the party-line, English-language monthly review, Vietnam Courier, first published in May 1964. The VNA style is more concise, objective and lively than the Courier's lengthy propaganda pieces and turgid policy statements, although the Courier has improved somewhat since the crucial Sixth Party Congress in 1986.

To subscribe or submit copy to either of the VNA publications, contact the editor, Mr Nguyen Kuyen, who is to be congratulated on the job he is doing.

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