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Cablegate: Ambassador Michalak's First Webchat Draws a Major Response

VZCZCXRO7678
RR RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #2006/01 3320952
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 280952Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6787
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 3991

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 002006

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EAP/PD, EAP/P

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OEXC SCUL PREL PGOV PHUM VM
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR MICHALAK'S FIRST WEBCHAT DRAWS A MAJOR RESPONSE
AND GENERATES SOME EDITORIAL ANXIETY


1. (U) Summary: On November 20 - Vietnam's National Teacher's Day -
Ambassador Michalak participated in his first online webchat with
VietnamNet Online, Vietnam's most widely read and influential online
news outlet. The almost two hour interview was carried live by
video and audio stream on the site, with the Ambassador fielding
dozens of questions, primarily on the day's theme of education. But
the interview also included a lengthy exchange on human rights and
Vietnam's expansion of civil freedoms and, as has been the case in
previous online interviews with American officials, the streaming
video was unedited and available on the website for several days
after the interview. In addition, the unedited tape will be shown
on VietnamNet's cable channel in the coming week. While frank
comments by the Ambassador on limitations to freedoms here remain on
the web, VietnamNet cut from the final posted transcript the
Ambassador's comment that "I think there are many people who would
like to see multi-party elections in Vietnam tomorrow, but I don't
think that's going to happen." This reinforces the message that
while press freedoms are finding room to grow, some boundaries
remain. End summary.

AMBASSADOR MICHALAK'S ONLINE DEBUT
-----------------------------------

2. (U) Ambassador Michalak participated in his first online webchat
with VietnamNet on November 20 - Vietnam's National Teacher's Day.
This online news outlet is Vietnam's most widely read and
influential news outlet, averaging 50 million hits per day.
Hundreds of questions were submitted by audience members for the
Ambassador's consideration, many on the day's theme of education.
The video of the full 100 minute interview was carried live on their
website and announcement of the event and a photo of the Ambassador
was the prominent headliner on their landing page. PAS staff
members were able to review incoming questions and ensure they were
unfiltered.

3. (U) Ambassador Michalak fielded dozens of questions on education,
highlighting U.S. efforts to assist Vietnam in developing its ailing
educational system, as well as encouraging Vietnamese students to
consider studying in the United States, and demystifying the visa
application process. In addition, there were queries on the
evolution of the bilateral relationship, globalization, and economic
growth. However, Editor in Chief Nguyen Anh Tuan, who was
conducting the interview, seemed midway through the interview to
move from asking readers' questions to pursuing his own train of
inquiry and a lengthy discussion of human rights ensued.

ONE LINE TOO MANY
-----------------

4. (U) Editor in Chief Tuan, a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School
and the recipient of a grant this year from that school, posed a
number of questions on Vietnam's progress on human rights. He
suggested that Vietnam needed to move "step by step" on these
freedoms, rather than simply making changes other countries wanted.
He observed that blogs were becoming increasingly popular and that
people felt they had access to information and could "discuss
politics in the tea shop" and didn't care about the issue of
freedoms of speech and association. "Well, if they don't care about
it," responded Ambassador Michalak, "then there's no harm in making
it totally free."

5. (U) An hour after the interview, Editor Tuan contacted PAS to
say they wished to cut one line from the final transcript of the
webchat to be carried on the site. The Ambassador had been asked if
Vietnam shouldn't be allowed to address issues of human rights
gradually rather than having to immediately comply with U.S. and
other countries' criteria. The Ambassador responded, "I think there
are many people who would like to see multi-party elections in
Vietnam tomorrow, but I don't think that's going to happen." This
line was cut.

6. (U) Shortly thereafter, Tuan's staff sent an email saying they'd
also like to cut the two lines that followed in which the Ambassador
went on to talk about the detention of several individuals for
peacefully expressing political opinions. "That's why we have
joined with other countries in calling for the release of Father Ly
and other people who are in prison for what we believe is expression
of their own political views," was the quote. When PAS protested
this extensive chop, Tuan relented and left those lines in the final
version, which remains available on the web site and has received
over 100,000 hits since the webchat. The fully unedited version if
also available on the Embassy website which receives thousands of
page hits each day.

7. (SBU) Comment: We are very pleased by the fact that the
Ambassador's straightforward exchange remains on one of Vietnam's
most-visited sites. We hope for a repeat: in speaking with the
Ambassador after the cameras were off after the interview, Editor
Tuan said he looked forward to continuing the conversation on human

HANOI 00002006 002 OF 002


rights with the Ambassador, one with which he was clearly seized.
But, he also reminded the Ambassador, some limits remain. The one
sentence ultimately removed, which deals with multi-party elections,
crosses one of the current red lines. Still, the dialogue on issues
like human rights is more vibrant on Vietnam's internet than on any
other form of media.

Michalak

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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