New Law Will Boost Powers of the Press in Vietnam, or Will It?

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 A Vietnamese government decree that will take effect next month spells out new penalties for those who obstruct or fail to cooperate with the media. “Such regulations have been unprecedented in Viet Nam’s legal system,” said lawyer Nguyen Van Hau, a member of the Sai Gon Bar Association. “The decree contains many positive provisions that envisage new access to information access for members of the press.”

Under the decree, those who bother journalists on duty will be fined up to $513. The fines will double for those who hamper journalists from fulfilling their duties, according to the decree, which takes effect Feb. 25.

Those who threaten journalists’ lives or deliberately vandalize or seize their property also face fines according to the decree, which will apply to both local and international journalists and press agencies.

It also spells out fines for those who hinder organizations or individuals from providing information to the press. Fines also will apply to individuals who refuse to provide information to the press under their legal jurisdiction.

Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), also said she welcomed the provisions enshrined in the decree.

“We would strongly urge the [Vietnamese] government to take this provision to heart and in future sanction government authorities who impede [or] threaten ... journalists,” Crispin said.

But journalists and experts have also voiced concern over a provision in the decree that may impose financial penalties for journalists who fail to identify their sources.

“This provision would be unrealistic given that they must protect [their sources] in certain cases, especially in reports about corruption,” said a Vietnamese journalist who declined to be named. “No one would dare to act as whistleblowers if they didn’t feel they’d be protected.”

The anonymous journalist added that the decree might be contradictory to the prevailing Press Law which enables journalists to keep the identities of their sources confidential