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Cablegate: Ministry of Culture and Information Suspends Newspapers For

DE RUEHHI #2705/01 2970216
R 240216Z OCT 06





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Ministry of Culture and Information Suspends Newspapers for
Negative Reporting on Currency Notes

HANOI 00002705 001.2 OF 002

1. (U) SUMMARY: Both Vietnamese and international media outlets
reported extensively over the weekend on the GVN's October 20
suspension of two newspapers for a period of one month. These
organizations, as well as numerous, more prominent papers, have
carried stories in the last few months about alleged problems with
the country's newly issued currency notes. The two affected news
outlets are considered minor ones and media contacts have suggested
that the move is a warning to the larger and more influential news
outlets to avoid criticism of the Government, particularly in this
sensitive period leading up to APEC. Significantly, the GVN's
actions show that, in spite of loud proclamations about an
increasingly vibrant and diverse media environment, Hanoi can and
will exercise its authority to discipline press outlets that cross
red-lines. End Summary and Comment.

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GVN Suspends Two Papers

2. (U) On October 20, the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture and
Information (MCI) issued formal decisions suspending the publication
of two newspapers for the period of one month. The Ministry wrote in
the decisions that the two papers, Cong Ly ("Justice") and Thoi Dai
("Era") had published "false reports" of alleged problems with
Vietnam's newly issued polymer Dong currency notes. The ministry
noted that the reporting violated certain articles of the Press Law,
and that the newspapers had failed to comply with official
instructions on how to cover the issue. Ministry officials also
indicated they are considering disciplinary measures against six
other publications for their inappropriate reporting on currency
printing errors.

3. (U) The two publications affected are minor ones with small
circulations. Cong Ly is a twice-weekly paper run by the People's
Supreme Court, and Thoi Dai is a weekly paper of the Vietnam Union
of Friendship Organizations.

4. (U) In a similar but reportedly unrelated development, on October
21, MCI revoked the operating license of Kinh Doanh va San Pham
(Business and Products) Magazine. The Ministry said that the
magazine had failed to follow directives laid out in its licensing
agreements. It reported that, despite repeated warnings, the
magazine had continued to publish articles that "created a negative
social impact." Counter to some media reports, this revocation was
not connected to the suspension of the two newspapers as the
magazine had not published any stories on the new currency notes.

Funny Money

5. (U) Vietnam is rapidly replacing its paper money with polymer
notes, which officials claim are of higher quality and less
vulnerable to counterfeiting. However, since 2004 when the first
new notes were introduced, serious errors have been reported,
including obvious printing mistakes and size variations. Apparently
flawless counterfeit polymer notes have also appeared. The
Vietnamese press has run numerous negative stories in the last few
months citing evidence gathered from the general public. Several
news outlets also reported that the son of the State Bank's Governor
was involved as a sub-contractor in supplying equipment and
materials related to the money printing process.

6. (U) In response to the ongoing media reports, the Communist
Party's Central Commission for Ideology and Culture, which oversees
all media issues in Vietnam, held a press briefing earlier this
month. During the briefing the State Bank Governor again defended
the currency notes, and rejected any suggestions that his son was
involved in their production. Officials at the briefing reportedly
also ordered journalists to cease writing stories critical of the
new currency and its printing procedures.

7. (SBU) Well-placed media contacts from major newspapers tell PAS
that they view MCI's actions as a warning to more influential news
organizations to avoid criticism of government printing errors and
any suggestion of official corruption. Contacts also reported that
the suspended publications plan to file formal complaints in
response to the decisions, citing far more critical articles which
have appeared in more prominent publications.

8. (SBU) When asked if editors of the major newspapers such as Thanh
Nien or Tuoi Tre are likely to be disciplined for their own reports,
key media officials indicated that low-level editors or writers may
be singled out for punishment, but that it is unlikely any key
editors would be cited. Consensus among PAS contacts is that the
Party and the Government are reticent to alienate the two largest
national publications that have significant influence on Vietnamese


HANOI 00002705 002.2 OF 002


9. (SBU) Several contacts drew parallels between the suspensions and
the 2004 case of journalist Lan Anh. Anh, who writes for the major
national daily Tuoi Tre, published what was allegedly a classified
document from the Ministry of Health, which cited government
responsibility in failing to control medicine prices. The Ministry
of Health threatened to sue her, but withdrew because of the public
outcry generated by coverage of the issue in Tuoi Tre. Anh became
something of a folk hero and her case is still cited as a great
victory for the Vietnamese press. Nonetheless, in spite of this
victory -- and loud official proclamations about an increasingly
vibrant and diverse media environment -- the GVN's recent actions
show that it can and will exercise its authority to discipline press
outlets that cross certain red-lines. End Comment.


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