Vietnamese authorities shut down the Tuoi Tre online news source for three months on Monday, accusing the popular media outlet of spreading “fake news” and promoting divisions between the northern and southern halves of the country.
The July 16 decision by Luu Dinh Phuc, head of the Media Department of Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication, cited especially a June 19 article saying that Vietnam’s president had called for a law allowing public protests, calling the story false, local media said.
Meanwhile, a May 26, 2017 Tuoi Tre story had drawn a reader comment suggesting an absence of superhighway development projects in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta was due to regional bias on the part of officials in the country’s north, an opinion that officials said promoted disunity in the country.
Tuoi Tre was also handed a fine of 220 million Vietnamese dong (U.S. $9,500 approx.), and only the newspaper’s online version was affected by the suspension, media reports said.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Tuesday, a Tuoi Tre reader named Luu Thien described himself as saddened by the action taken against the paper.
“The journalists and editors of Tuoi Tre have a high degree of social responsibility, and now they have been suspended. I find all this sad and quite frustrating,” he said, adding that in Vietnam, the right to freedom of speech is being increasingly controlled.
“This is especially true with regard to information the ruling Communist party and government in Hanoi do not want people to see,” he said.
“People in my country have been isolated from outside information, the outside world, and even information coming from inside the country,” he said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a journalist working in Vietnam described the government’s action against Tuoi Tre as a landmark in the state’s restrictions on free speech, saying, “For the press, this is an historical event, because Tuoi Tre is a symbol of the press in Saigon in particular, and more generally in Vietnam itself.”
'Not a major paper anymore'
Also speaking to RFA, one journalist said however that he had not read the paper “in a long time.”
“I have not read Tuoi Tre in a long time, because it keeps away from democracy events and demands for reform, and doesn’t run news about protests or the prosecution of dissidents,” he said.
“For me, it’s not a major newspaper anymore.”
“[Vietnam’s] traditional media are completely controlled,” international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in an April 25, 2018 report.
“But citizen-journalists defend the freedom to inform with great courage—and the government’s response has been merciless.”
“Bloggers used to be sentenced to two years in prison, but now those who blog about banned subjects such as corruption or environmental disasters can expect a 15-year jail term,” according to the RSF report.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.