YVONNE EPPS WRITES— Since the beginning of Fall, I’ve been bemoaning the lack of press freedom in Vietnam, beating this dead horse and watching talented journalists battle the nooses around their necks. However, this sad story is taking a turn. It’s about time someone with a powerful voice said something about this issue.
Nguyen Cong Khe, founder and former editor-in-chief of Thanh Nien and chairman of the media corporation that owns Mot The Gioi, wrote an Op-Ed calling for free press in Vietnam. This piece caught the attention of and was picked up by the New York Times and the Straits Times. Nguyen’s argument differs from others, believing that a free press is beneficial for both the regime and public. He mentions the changing media landscape and the public seeking alternative sources that are not polluted with propaganda. Nguyen says,”Opening up the media would help our leaders win back the trust of the people, which they need if they hope to advance Vietnam’s main goals.” He calls for the regime to meet the demands of the public so the country can unify and work towards change. This thread of nationalism is refreshing to see within this issue of press freedom as most of the issue concerns a “them vs. us” mentality.
Nguyen’s Op-Ed is special because it comes from the heart of the storm. It takes great courage to publicly criticize a government that is notorious for harassing its press. Nguyen cares about his country, using his journalism career and nationalistic themes, but genuine Op-Ed pieces don’t usually come stamped from Ho Chi Minh City. A less restricted press is not a revolutionary concept; Human Rights Watch always advocates for press freedom and Reporters Without Borders has exposed the harsh reality, but as outside sources. Nguyen risks hide and hair with great courage to address the problems in his country which is much more meaningful than these.
Unfortunately, as the old cliche goes, things are easier said than done. Comments on the New York Times reprint range from optimistic in the long run, but pessimistic for the short term. The country will eventually adapt to the changing media landscape, with or without press freedom, but many obstacles litter that path. As we reach towards the sun on this issue, we know that there are brave souls out there like Nguyen Cong Khe and his words will greatly impact press freedom in Vietnam.