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Cablegate: Ambassador Expresses Concern About Vietnam's Draft Press

VZCZCXRO0744
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #1264/01 3190539
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140539Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8730
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 5296
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001264

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/AWH AND EEB/CIP
USDOC FOR ITA/MAS/OTEC CDICKSON AND BMERONEY AND
4430/MAC/AP/OPB/VLC/HHPHO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EINT ECON TSPL KCOR KPAO SOCI PGOV PHUM PREL TBIO
VM

SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT VIETNAM'S DRAFT PRESS
LAW

REF: HANOI 0569

HANOI 00001264 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador met with Minister of Information &
Communications (MIC) Le Duan Hop on November 6, 2008. The
Ambassador expressed concern about the Government of Vietnam's (GVN)
draft press law, urged that private sector companies in Vietnam
participate in the upcoming 2008 ICT Commercial Dialogue Working
Group Meeting, and asked MIC to circulate a copy of its draft
telecom law. Minister Hop outlined his priorities, which include
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) education, and
universal access and e-government. Hop also asked the Ambassador to
help Vietnam in its bid to establish a University of Information &
Communications. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The Ambassador met with Le Duan Hop, Minister of
Information & Communications (MIC) on November 6. MIC was formed in
2007 after a merger between the Ministries of Culture & Information
and Post & Telematics. Hop, appointed Culture & Information
Minister in 2006, has a PhD in Economics and is a member of the
Communist Party Central Committee.

Concern About New Press Law
---------------------------

3. (SBU) The Ambassador expressed concern about Vietnam's new press
law, which MIC is currently drafting. The Ambassador said the new
law, if passed in its current form, would tighten journalistic
freedoms, exert overly broad political demands on journalists and
editors, compel restructuring of media organizations, and place new
censorship restrictions on press conferences and electronic media.
The Ambassador offered to work with the Ministry to provide
technical assistance to strengthen press freedom and reduce
corruption, but Hop did not reply. Note: The Embassy plans to
follow-up by sending the Ministry an offer of assistance in a
letter.

4. (SBU) Hop defended the new press law by citing what he said were
several "inaccuracies" in Vietnamese press stories about the 2006
PMU-18 case. PMU-18, named after a unit of the GVN's Ministry of
Transport, was a corruption scandal involving officials who stole
development funds earmarked for roads and bridges, gambling much of
it on European football games (Reftel). In May 2008, police
arrested two high-profile Vietnamese newspaper reporters and charged
them with "abuse of power" for their reporting. A court
subsequently convicted both reporters of "violating democratic
freedom rights," sentencing one to prison. Hop told the Ambassador
that the reporters deliberately tried to exaggerate the wealth of a
high-ranking Transport official accused of wrongdoing in the case.

5. (SBU) Hop said MIC is finalizing the draft law and hoped to send
it to the National Assembly for approval in May 2009. He said that
while some view the new law as complicated and restrictive, the
Ministry aims to create a "comprehensive and transparent" legal
regime for the press. The Ambassador asked Hop to support the
efforts of foreign news organizations to open offices in HCMC, which
the GVN currently does not permit.

Private Sector Participation in ICT Commercial Dialogue
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (SBU) Turning to the upcoming ICT Commercial Dialogue, the
Ambassador thanked the Minister for sending a 20-member interagency
delegation to Washington and encouraged Vietnam to send private
sector representatives as well. Currently, no Vietnamese companies
are scheduled to attend the Dialogue. (Note: Following the
meeting, the Ministry reported that Madame Quan Duy Ngan Ha, MIC's
ICT Dialogue Working Group leader, would not attend the Dialogue
Working Group Meeting. Instead, Bui Nhu Uyen, the Ministry's lead
official on ICT education, will lead the delegation. End note.)
The Ambassador noted that MIC has proposed universal access,
e-government and ICT education as topics for the Dialogue's Working
Group, and he asked the Minister to elaborate on Vietnam's plan to
develop these capabilities.

7. (SBU) Hop responded energetically by outlining the GVN's desire
to collaborate with a U.S. university to develop an Information &
Communications University in Vietnam. The Ambassador welcomed the
idea and asked the Ministry to provide a paper with additional
details in time for the Joint Education Task Force Conference in HCM
City in January 2009.

Vietnam's E-Government Ambitions
--------------------------------


HANOI 00001264 002.2 OF 002


8. (SBU) Hop admitted that the rollout of e-government services,
which the GVN has been discussing for several years, was proceeding
"very slowly." He agreed with the Ambassador that Vietnam would
likely require a new agency to coordinate technology standards among
the various ministries. Hop said e-government was "critical" to
ensure that Vietnam's central government could communicate with its
citizens, provincial government and the business community. "We can
only solve corruption and other shortcomings by deploying government
services online," he said.

9. (SBU) Note: The World Bank agreed in 2006 to lend Vietnam $88
million toward a $197 million ICT Development Project. The project,
signed by then-State Bank governor Le Duc Thuy, aimed to modernize
Vietnam's ICT infrastructure and enhance e-government services. The
World Bank has warned Vietnam that it will withdraw the funding by
December 1, 2008 if the GVN fails to hire consultants to analyze its
ICT status. End note.

10. (SBU) MIC is working to increase telecom and broadband coverage
in rural areas and Hop said Vietnam hoped to learn from the
experience of the United States in achieving this goal. (Note: In a
2005 ICT strategy paper, the GVN outlined a goal to reach internet
subscription rates of 8-12 per 100 people, of which 30 percent would
be broadband subscriptions. End note). Hop also stressed that it
was imperative for Vietnam's managers and business professionals to
receive ICT training. In closing, the Ambassador urged the Minister
to circulate a draft of Vietnam's long-awaited new telecom law (now
dubbed the "Communications Law") and expressed hope that MIC would
adhere to its latest timeline to issue four 3G licenses by January
2009. U.S. companies Qualcomm and Motorola believe that 3G services
will help to expand mobile voice and high-speed broadband data
services to Vietnamese in urban and rural areas.

MICHALAK

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