Vietnamese Fake News Story Smells Like Government Propaganda, Journalists Say

The “Dr. Khoa” story was shared widely on social media by high-profile media personalities.
Vietnamese Fake News Story Smells Like Government Propaganda, Journalists Say Local bank auditor Nguyen Huyen Trang, wearing a protective mask, looks at her newborn son Phuc An at Vinmec hospital during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hanoi, Vietnam April 4, 2020.

A recent news story about a selfless physician that spread widely on Vietnamese social media before being declared a fabrication by authorities smacks of old-school Communist Party propaganda, journalists in the Southeast Asian country told RFA.

The story, which surfaced and was debunked early this month, told of the selflessness of “Dr. Khoa,” a medical doctor who removed respirators from his coronavirus-stricken parents to save an expectant mother who had gone into labor with twins. According to the story, Khoa also delivered the twins.

Khoa’s parents had contracted COVID-19 by “working wholeheartedly at pandemic hotspots” and died after Khoa removed the respirators, according to the report.

On Aug. 8, a day after the Dr. Khoa story appeared, Nguyen Thi Huynh Mai of the Ho Chi Minh City Health Service confirmed the story was a complete fabrication.

“This spread of false news has wasted everyone’s time and interrupted needed updates about the fight against COVID-19,” Mai told the local Tuoi Tre newspaper.

After the false report, which is believed to have originated on a Facebook account claiming to be Khoa’s, spread on social media, it was shared on the Facebook pages of Nguyen Duc Hien, the deputy editor in chief of the Ho Chi Minh City Law Newspaper, and Hoang Nguyen Vu, a former journalist for state media.

Authorities fined Hien and Vu five million dong (about U.S. $200) each. The two said that they had incidentally shared the news about Dr. Khoa’s sacrifice without thoroughly verifying it.

The false story of Dr. Khoa was widely circulated because it is common for the Vietnamese government to make up news to push a particular political aim or cover up a mistake, journalists told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“In my opinion, this fake story is made up for two purposes. First is to blur the issue that the real lack of respirators is a result of bad governance. Second, they want to test the Vietnamese people to see if they will believe such a fictional story,” freelance journalist Pham Minh Vu told RFA.

“When I was in the second year of university as a journalism major, I got my first lesson about ‘journalistic ethics’ which stated that we were to write news in a way that protects the party. After that, my dream to become a journalist was shattered completely,” said Vu.

Research institutes controlled by the authorities need clandestine ways to evaluate the sentiment of the Vietnamese people, and through this fabricated story, “they have gotten what they want,” added Vu.

Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia told RFA that the Vietnamese people have been subject to communists’ brainwashing campaigns for more than 70 years, stretching back before independence leader Ho Chi Minh’s days as the founder of the communist North Vietnam regime in Hanoi in 1945.

“The cult of leaders started from Ho Chi Minh via his ironic publication of ‘Telling Stories While Walking” by ‘Tran Dan Tien,’” he said.

Tran Dan Tien was the pen name that Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), used to write his biography and other works.

“Such a practice [of fabrication] has continued to the present day and is employed by key opinion leaders, frequently.” Gia said.

“The fake Doctor Khoa story is an example that reflects the basic nature of an authoritarian regime. There is no hope for change when deception is cloaked as morality,” he added.

The story of Doctor Khoa draws parallels to that of Le Van Tam, a hero during Vietnam’s French colonial era (1887-1945) who was said to have doused himself with petrol and run into gas storage depot to burn down it down.

It was not until 2008 that Phan Huy Le, a historian, revealed that Tam was not a real.

Le said that the story of Tam was made up by Tran Huy Lieu, a high-ranking official during the time of Ho Chi Minh’s August Revolution against French and Japanese colonial forces in 1945.

According to Le, Lieu told him to come clean about Tam once the country returned to stability.

RFA was unable to confirm if the story of Doctor Khoa had been fabricated by the Vietnamese government or its supporters.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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