State TV Criticism Unlikely to Tune Out Vietnamese Dissent Over Fish Kill

2016-05-17
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A man walks among dead fish lying on a beach in Quang Trach district in the central coastal province of Quang Binh near the Formosa steel plant that is under attack for industrial pollution,  April 20, 2016.
A man walks among dead fish lying on a beach in Quang Trach district in the central coastal province of Quang Binh near the Formosa steel plant that is under attack for industrial pollution, April 20, 2016.
AFP

Activists urging the Vietnamese people to protest the government’s sluggish reaction to an environmental disaster that killed tons of fish along Vietnam’s central coast say a barrage of criticism by a major state media outlet will do little damage to their cause.

“It is an old trick that nobody believes anymore,” blogger Nguyen Thuy Hanh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “I don’t think anybody would believe that, and I can assure you it was a dirty defamation.”

In an unusual move, state broadcaster VTV1 used an 11-minute segment Sunday night to warn the public to stay away from demonstrations about the disaster. The segment was picked up by other news outlets.

While government experts have claimed that  a "red tide,” or a release of dangerous chemicals by humans, could have been the cause, many Vietnamese blame the $10.6-billion Formosa steel plant in Ha Tinh province and are dismissive of government explanations.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has promised a thorough investigation of the disaster, and he pledged to bring justice to those found  responsible, but there appears to be little confidence among many in Vietnam that he will do so.

The one-party state has cracked down on dissenting voices before, but the dedication of a segment on the nation’s largest TV station that named names and connected dissenters with subversive activity added a new page to the government’s play book.

"Riot and overthrow?"

"Their intention to abuse and disturb was revealed when many subjects called for using knives and petrol bombs to attack the functional forces and to overthrow the authorities," the narrator of the VTV report intoned, according to a Reuters report.

"Many people may ask what kind of peaceful marches are they ... Is this possibly a preparation for a riot and overthrow?" the voice-over asked.

The warning comes as protesters tried to rally for a third successive Sunday. Tight security in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City prevented major rallies, but that didn’t stop small groups of demonstrators from gathering, according to social media.

“They have distorted the truth, cut and pasted stories to vilify and denounce demonstrators and intellectuals relating to the mass fish deaths in the central region,” said Nguyen Quang A told RFA.

The former director of the now-defunct Institute of Development Studies think tank and a well-known activist in Vietnam, contends that the government has less control over public opinion than it did in the past.

“Before, people had no access to foreign TV channels, or the internet, and they had no other sources of information,” he said. “The government, with their monopoly on media could succeed in distorting information brainwashing people with their propaganda, brainwashing people and making people believe everything said by the government was true.”

While the government’s control over the media may not be complete, it still holds substantial power over news outlets.

“Of course it still has some effect on quite a large number of people,” he said. “But as soon as they have access to independent sources of information, things will change.

Reported for RFA's Vietnamese Service by Gia Minh. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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kenji

from Cherry Hill

Just like any other authoritarian governments, the government of Vietnam is so focus on neutralizing/prohibiting public voices of discontent rather than working to manage the disaster itself so people would be back to living their normal lives. A lot of them are unfortunately living around the poverty line. The disaster management from the highest level has shown an inefficient, old-school and unprofessional system. The people the government claims to serve are the ones who suffer and yet the disaster is far from over and the government is looking increasingly clueless. Maybe they're consulting the Party leadership or even China CP. Who knows. The public in Vietnam has never been served their legal/constitutional rights anyway.

May 19, 2016 01:04 PM

Cathy Sing

from USA

Vietnamese government does 2 things wrong: 1) Disorganized responses to small crisis. 2) Over-emphasized the irrelevant influences of overseas instigators and naming small-time Viet Tan as culprit. With the international team joining official investigation, the root cause of fish kill will be announced - just like the 700-tons in Chile, 200-tons in Brazil, 85-tons in Columbia, 60-tons in Indonesia, 60-tons in Cambodia, 50-tons in Hainan/China and 45-tons on Hong Kong... with no protests. For a country of 92 millions, certainly the overseas exiles could get a few thousand to the street via open social media and internet access, but they are small and growing irritant to the general population. Vietnam must focus on continue building the country, eliminate corruptions, prepare to fight China and overseas noises will die down of old age!

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