A Vietnamese editor working for a state media outlet was fired when he apparently crossed the line on free expression by publishing excerpts from an exiled dissident who runs a popular blog on sensitive topics.
Nguyen Nhu Phong, the editor of state-run website PetroTimes, was fired and stripped of his press card "for committing wrongdoing in press activities,” the Ministry of Information and Communications said in a statement late Monday.
The ministry did not elaborate on the reason for Nguyen Nhu Phong’s firing, but local journalists told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the sacking came after excerpts of an interview with exiled blogger Nguoi Buon Gio also known as Bui Thanh Hieu.
Nguoi Buon Gio is one of Vietnam’s most well-known bloggers, who documents human rights violations through films, photos and short texts. He is a fellow of the Writers in Exile Program of PEN Germany, and now lives in Germany.
In the excerpts, which have since been taken down from the website, the activist reportedly shared documents defending Trinh Xuan Thanh, a government official accused of mismanagement while he was an executive with PetroVietnam, the state oil company.
PetroVietnam is the trading name for the Vietnam Oil and Gas Group, the company owned by the Vietnamese central government that is responsible for all oil and gas resources in the country. PetroVietnam is the country's largest oil producer and second-largest power producer.
“The official decision did not elaborate on the reason Nhu Phong was fired but everybody knows that he published the interview with Nguoi Buon, whose articles about Trinh Xuan Thanh have been posted online,” freelance journalist and blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Trinh Xuan Thanh is a hot topic in Vietnam because his story focuses on anti-corruption and more people read Nguoi Buon Gio’s blog to find out information about the case than read heavily-controlled state media, Huynh Ngoc Chenh explained.
According to his PEN Germany bio, Nguou Buon Gio’s blog reaches up to 15,000 visitors per day even as the government attempts to suppress it.
Vietnam actively suppresses press coverage, but firing a top editor is a rarity because most toe the party line.
“People who work for the party’s newspapers have to follow orders from the party in all their articles,” Huynh Ngoc Chenh said. “The media can only write about big corruption cases when there is a signal from above. In reality, no journalist can do investigative reports.”
Other journalists in the country speculate that Nguyen Nhu Phong likely stepped on some sensitive toes by publishing the excerpts.
“This is his karma because he has made himself unpopular with many people. His newspaper ran biased articles,” said one journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The decision made us curious about the real reason. It is like an order from the party,” the journalist added. “Maybe Phong was over confident that nobody would ever touch him, but in the end, the editor-in-chief is just like a pawn in a chess game.”
Reported by Cat Linh for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.