Netizens Sway Opinion with ‘People’s' Paper

2013-03-13
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Huynh Ngoc Chenh (L) receives the Netizen of the Year award in Paris, March 12, 2013.
AFP

An award-winning blogger in Vietnam said online activists in his tightly ruled country are becoming an effective source of information and are educating the public about their political rights through their “people’s newspaper.”

But while these activists are competing with the one-party communist state’s official media to channel information to the public, they are not fighting against the government, Huynh Ngoc Chenh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Wednesday in Paris, where he had traveled to accept the 2013 international “Netizen of the Year” award from press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

“Of course, state media is very strong because they control everything from newspapers to radio, TV, and Internet. A lot of money is pumped into these channels,” said Chenh, a retired senior editor at Vietnam’s Thanh Nien newspaper whose blog has faced heavy government pressure.

“However, news from the ‘People’s Newspaper,’ as we bloggers call ourselves, is developing day by day,” he said. “We compete with the state media and have the edge because our news is true—and also because of our fighting spirit.”

Chenh is one of Vietnam’s most influential bloggers. His site, which is blocked by the government, draws tens of thousands of Vietnamese who use anti-censorship software to read his articles on democracy, human rights, and the territorial disputes between Vietnam and China.

He said that while many bloggers are in prison, particularly since Vietnam launched an intensified crackdown on online dissent in 2009, “there are signs that they may be freed soon because of our strong protests.”

Lawyer Le Cong Dinh, land rights activist Bui Hang and blogger Le Anh Hung were all released from detention after Vietnamese authorities faced pressure from Vietnam’s online community, he said.

“Actually, we’re not fighting against the government. We write to let people know what is going on—it’s a form of education,” Chenh said.

“We want to give them information about what democracy is and what their basic rights are so they can believe in themselves, be brave, and overcome their fears to fight for their rights,” he said.

“When people understand these things, the government is forced to change.”

Amending the constitution

Chenh said that he hopes to pressure the government to amend a clause in the Vietnamese constitution which bans the activities of organizations that have a different political agenda from that of the ruling Communist Party.

“In the People’s Newspaper, we don’t differentiate between domestic news and news covered by overseas Vietnamese. The key point is where you stand. You either stand with the people or with the government, which goes against the trend in our country,” he said.

“We don’t see the difference between bloggers inside Vietnam and the ones outside. They all belong to the People’s Newspaper. We cooperate with each other.”

Chenh said that he has worked to highlight a number of sensitive issues in Vietnam, including limits to the freedom of information, the blocking of bloggers from traveling abroad, and the movement to revise the constitution.

He said that while his website had been officially fire-walled, it has never been the subject of a hacking attack—unlike a number of other popular Vietnamese blogs covering sensitive issues.

Reporters Without Borders lists one-party Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet” and the third-largest prison in the world for netizens.

The group’s Secretary General Christophe Deloire said last week that bloggers like Chenh “fill the void left by the state-run media” in a country “marked by draconian censorship and growing surveillance of dissidents.”

Reported by Khanh Nguyen for RFA’S Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.