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Putting BBC’s propaganda against Vietnam to the test

September 2nd, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Is it possible to stop people from discussing news or current affairs on the Internet? The answer is easy: obviously not. I can’t see how that is possible without shutting the Internet down completely. And, what does it mean to be an “enemy of the internet” anyway? To qualify for that, wouldn’t a nation state be engaging in destroying Internet infrastructure globally or doing everything possible to shunt the productive potential of the Internet for humankind?

Recently, Vietnam has earned that dubious distinction from Reporters Without Borders. China did too. Every chance the Western press gets to talk about this issue for Vietnam, they dutifully repeat this labeling. (For example, see this Reuters’s article.) Well, Internet adoption in Vietnam has been growing at 30%+ a year, so it is obvious the country is embracing rather than anything that label insinuates.

Is Vietnam engaged in undermining Internet use anywhere? I don’t think so. Instead, think for a second what Edward Snowden has revealed about the NSA’s and GCHQ spying of EVERY citizen on this planet.

Do the United States and the U.K. get labeled “enemies of the internet?” Nope. So, let’s just get this out of the way: Reporters Without Borders is a propaganda machine. Like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, their modus operandi is to trivialize atrocities for some countries while amplify certain other one’s.

Anyways, Vietnam is now also being accused of “banning online users from discussing current affairs” by the BBC or for similar “misdeeds” by other Western media.

Below is a fairly short article by the BBC on this matter and I thought I use it to illustrate how brain-dead this propaganda piece is.

1 September 2013 Last updated at 07:52 ET

Vietnam internet restrictions come into effect

A controversial law banning Vietnamese online users from discussing current affairs has come into effect.

Well, to claim anyone able to stop people from discussing current affairs on the Internet is simply comical. Perhaps the BBC could point to an example where this is achieved.

The decree, known as Decree 72, says blogs and social websites should not be used to share news articles, but only personal information.

If the BBC wishes its readers to know the details of “Decree 72,” it would provide a link. Obviously not. This is vaguely worded to mislead. It is likely Vietnam does not want foreign propaganda to roam freely within her borders. (The actual English version of Decree 72 is here. Thx Black Phoenix.)

The law also requires foreign internet companies to keep their local servers inside Vietnam.

Of course. Wouldn’t Vietnam want to know if such servers are clean, whether NSA and GCHQ have back-doors on them? Wouldn’t Vietnam want to be able to subpoena evidence should criminals try to rely on such servers to commit crimes within the country?

It has been criticised by internet companies and human rights groups, as well as the US government.

That criticism obviously is worth jack.

Vietnam is a one-party communist state and the authorities maintain a tight grip on the media.

Not any tighter than the U.S. or the U.K. for sure.

Dozens of activists, including bloggers, have been convicted for anti-state activity in the country this year.

Perhaps the BBC thinks Vietnamese “activists” and “bloggers” are not capable of violating the country’s laws. Perhaps there are overzealous cases where some of these people are innocent. But, BBC apparently is not interested in the specifics is it?

The new law specifies that social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook should only be used “to provide and exchange personal information”.

Well, if a Vietnamese user of Twitter searches for Vietnam, the government obviously wouldn’t want any anti-Vietnam results to show up on top first would it? Wouldn’t Vietnam want to stop the likes of Twitter and Facebook becoming media entities? For that reason, it is more likely what Vietnam is after today is only a trend to be followed by other countries. In fact, China outright blocks these services.

It also prohibits the online publication of material that “opposes” the Vietnamese government or “harms national security”.

I suppose Vietnam has no national security that could possibly be harmed and that’s why the BBC put quotes around it.

Last month the US embassy in Hanoi said it was “deeply concerned by the decree’s provisions”, arguing that “fundamental freedoms apply online just as they do offline”.

If the US embassy actually knows what “fundamental freedoms” mean, it would know better to let Vietnam determine her own course on use of the Internet.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group that campaigns for press freedom worldwide, has said the decree will leave Vietnamese people “permanently deprived of the independent and outspoken information that normally circulates in blogs and forums”.

Whenever a former slave owner tells the slaves it knows what’s best for the slaves, warning bell should go off. Perhaps for so many years of resource extraction, Reporters Without Borders might have a tiny bit of decency to call for the French government to give a bit of money to the Vietnamese.

Alas, this is a propaganda organization, so let’snot kid ourselves.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group that represents companies including Google and Facebook, said the move would “stifle innovation and discourage businesses from operating in Vietnam”.

This is rich! On the very last quote, BBC draws from The Asia Internet Coalition. Obviously Vietnam is not represented in that coalition is she?

[Update September 2, 2013]
Also notice how the BBC misleads readers into thinking Decree 72 is singularly focused on banning discussions of news. It’s in fact much broader. Albeit short, the following take from China’s Global Times gives an infinitely more complete picture of what Vietnam is trying to do:

Vietnam to tighten Internet service management
Xinhua | August 06, 2013 20:12

The Vietnamese government has issued Decree 72 on the management, provision and use of Internet services and online information and games, local media reported Tuesday.

Accordingly, Decree 72, which will be enacted from September, consists of six chapters and 46 articles covering Internet services and resources, the management, provision, and usage of online information, the establishment of websites and social networks, information about telecommunication networks, online games, and online information safety and security, the Vietnamese Government Portal reported.

The decree regulates conditions needed for the development of Internet information forms by licensing websites, social networks, and service supply registration.

It also defines the rights and obligations of online information suppliers and users and the management of cross-border information supply in line with Vietnamese law and international conventions to which Vietnam is a signatory.

According to the decree, individuals have the right to collect and share information on social networks. It stipulates that individuals are allowed to cite information and attach a link to the source information so other people can refer to the original, full information.

To be licensed, individuals and organizations need to meet five criteria: being organizations and businesses established under the Vietnamese law; having management staff meeting requirements set by the Ministry of Information and Communications; registering web domain to establish a website and a social network; being competent financially, technically and organizationally with human resources fitting registered operation scale; and ensuring the taking of measures to guarantee information safety and security, quoted the report.

  1. September 3rd, 2013 at 00:03 | #1

    Old fashioned mouthpieces like the BBC and Washington Posts etc. are losing relevance faster than they know. They mechanically “qualify” every quote from People’s Daily or CCTV with “the communist mouthpiece”. They don’t even pause and think how it reflects on themselves when the “communist mouthpieces” is opining in a much more rational and objective manner on, say, Syria. They are becoming their worst enemies.

  2. ersim
    September 3rd, 2013 at 01:42 | #2

    Outfits like the BBC, being a government funded mouthpiece of pro-west propaganda, is still a public relations branch of the government. It happens that the “tax payers” are “funding” it.

  3. Black Pheonix
    September 3rd, 2013 at 06:37 | #3

    I personally do believe that the Vietnamese law banning online discussion of news is too far and too restrictive. However, the same could be said of some “editorial policies” regarding some view points for BBC, which is a government-funded news organization. So, kettle calling pot black.

    The Chinese law punishing “online rumors” is completely different. It is to punish harmful consequences of rumors. Even critics admit that China has a problem with online rumors, often used by some greedy companies to damage reputations of other companies, for profit.

    There is nothing strange or new about the Chinese law. Virtually every society have laws that punish defamatory speech, online or otherwise.

  4. Black Pheonix
    September 3rd, 2013 at 07:21 | #4

    BBC confusing criticisms with the laws.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-23940645

    BBC implies that several CCP leaders and newspapers have criticized the “law”, and confused the issue.

    Let’s get this straight, the Chinese law against “rumors” is not new. It’s been there. It’s not broad.

    Even in the enforcement of that law, there has not been much stretching of the law to “suppress speech”.

    The BBC article cites a “crackdown” by example of Charles Xue, who was arrested for “soliciting prostitute”, which he confessed to.

    Well, that has nothing to do with the anti-Rumor law, does it?

  5. September 3rd, 2013 at 09:49 | #5

    @Black Pheonix
    That’d be assuming Vietnam is indeed banning discussion of news. I’ve just updated the OP with a short report from Xinhua. NOte:

    According to the decree, individuals have the right to collect and share information on social networks. It stipulates that individuals are allowed to cite information and attach a link to the source information so other people can refer to the original, full information.

  6. Black Pheonix
    September 3rd, 2013 at 10:07 | #6

    @YinYang

    I still think Vietnam is being too restrictive.

    Punishing defamatory speech is one thing, restricting the format and type of information on internet is completely different.

  7. September 3rd, 2013 at 11:56 | #7

    @Black Pheonix
    Perhaps stipulating links to original source required is a bit too much. So I have to agree with you that’s being too much.

    Rather stupid actually. I don’t see how they can enforce something like that. Anyways, have you come across an English version of the decree?

    Anyways, back to the claim by BBC this is a “ban” is outright ludicrous.

  8. Black Pheonix
    September 3rd, 2013 at 13:26 | #8

    http://luatminhkhue.vn/copyright/decree-no-72-2013-nd-cp.aspx

    Actually, BBC’s interpretation of the Decree 72 is a bit stretchy.

    I don’t know where they are getting some of their conclusions.

  9. September 3rd, 2013 at 15:54 | #9

    These 2 articles may provide better context.

    http://news.yahoo.com/vietnam-rebuffs-criticism-misunderstood-decree-120118678.html

    Its statement was referring to a vaguely worded article of the decree that Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications said had been misinterpreted as a ban on sharing links to news articles.

    “We never ban people from sharing information or linking news from websites. It was totally misunderstood,” Nguyen Thanh Huyen, head of the ministry’s Online Information Section, told Reuters.

    “This is a normal decree which doesn’t go against any human right commitments,” she said, adding that particular article was aimed at protecting intellectual property and copyright.

    The decree, however, does still outlaw the posting of content on the internet that harms national security and opposes the state. It does not elaborate on what constitutes a breach.

    http://www.techinasia.com/vietnam-bans-social-news-sharing/

    This decree is actually related to a case we covered earlier this year wherein Bao Moi, the local news aggregator, was sued by a local newspaper for copyright infringement. The decree is a follow-up on newspapers protecting their copyrights, and essentially their businesses. In other words, it’s a ban on copying and pasting news content into other platforms, namely social media.

    One side of the coin: Vietnamese newspapers struggle to survive
    Probably more than any other industry in Vietnam, journalism is severely under assault. Mainly because the practice of copying and pasting articles is rampant. For example, let’s look at a satirical article that we published on Apple in Vietnam last month. For the last two days, it has been circulating in Vietnamese under the title “Duc Nam from Infonet”. There’s no credit to the writer, and no link here to TechInAsia. But this doesn’t just happen from English into Vietnamese (although it does happen on a large scale), it also happens between Vietnamese news sites.

    Even the most popular Vietnamese news sites are satisfied with copying and pasting content and just writing “From so-and-so” as a footnote at the bottom of an article. Most of the time, the articles aren’t linked at all. This is all extremely frustrating for real news organizations who put in all the money and work to find and build stories but then don’t get the hits and views – and meagre ad revenue – they deserve. In other words, some sites out there are copying and pasting content for free and profiting off of it.

    For news organizations the world over, this is already a serious concern; their survival is being threatened by new types of online media and fast reblogging and copying of content. The latest decree signals one step in bringing litigation to this situation.

    The other side: limiting people’s inclination to share news
    On the flip side of the decree there’s the more obvious implications on individuals. After all, the decree does not exactly state how authorities plan to monitor online activity for individual infringers who post news on social sites, nor does it say how they will be punished for infringement. Social media is also a very vague term in this scenario that encapsulates a huge amount of activity on the internet today. In fact, as translated by Australia Network News, “Blogs or social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter should only be used ‘to provide and exchange personal information’” in Vietnam once this becomes law in November. That means there’s wherewithal in this decree to prosecute individuals for sharing news deemed inappropriate – or inconvenient – by authorities.

    What’s next?
    Vietnam seems to be striking at social media and individual sharing rather than fixing the cause of the problem: content piracy by lazy news sites. Surely media industry regulation would be a better move than this kind of ban. As a result, the Vietnamese government’s move is even stricter than China’s, where social media sites like Sina Weibo, which is a mix of Twitter and Facebook, have proved problematic to authorities as they enable real-time sharing of information. Chinese authorities have responded by enforcing real-name sign-up for Sina Weibo, as well as fast-moving censorship of controversial subjects.

    We’re bound to see a lot of online chatter about this before the law comes into effect in November. If it does indeed pass into law, it will be interesting and possibly troubling to see how the online community will respond. At worst, it may be used as justification for more Vietnamese bloggers to be arrested.

    While there is better context, the articles are definitely not without flaws. For example, what’s wrong with restricting speech that is harmful to the national interest. Just because the U.S. is strong today and can tolerate more rubbish speech doesn’t mean that others must tailor to their standards. Besides, has the U.S. been that tolerant toward those who have spoken about things that are against what it perceives to be against its national interests?

    Of course, I also find the reference to “real name registration” comical in light of the revelations about NSA the last few month. Worried about real name registration. At least the Chinese gov’t asks for it. The U.S. gov’t doesn’t even do so, it just takes and have all the internet companies do its bidding without your permission…

  10. September 3rd, 2013 at 17:29 | #10

    Thx for sharing those two articles, Allen.

    Talking about internet companies doing U.S. government’s bidding. . . .I saw a talk not too long ago given by some U.S. thinktank – one of the topics was precisely about the U.S. leveraging the likes of Google and other U.S. Internet companies for foreign policy.

    Also worth noting – less trust in U.S. internet services means may mean less business:

    http://www.informationweek.com/cloud-computing/infrastructure/nsas-prism-could-cost-us-cloud-companies/240159980

  11. Black Pheonix
    September 4th, 2013 at 06:46 | #11

    “In fact, as translated by Australia Network News, “Blogs or social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter should only be used ‘to provide and exchange personal information’” in Vietnam once this becomes law in November. That means there’s wherewithal in this decree to prosecute individuals for sharing news deemed inappropriate – or inconvenient – by authorities.”

    I find some of the translations rather purposefully skewed. For example, several online translations of the decree doesn’t even have the word “ONLY” in criticized article 20.4.

    **And incidentally, Article 20 of the decree relates to “classification” of websites. Thus, article 20.4 is not the only definition for “social networks”.

    It just says, if a website, by individual or by social network, does not post “general information”, and just posts personal information, then it is a “personal website”.

    If Facebook and others allow posting of news, then they need to register as “news websites” under Article 20.2.

    Vietnam’s concern is that some websites are ripping off news articles without any citation or royalties.

    (But I do understand that this is somewhat an excuse.)

    However, BBC’s criticisms are stretchy, because the Decree doesn’t “ban” news websites.

  12. September 5th, 2013 at 03:21 | #12

    YinYang, thanks for this write up. I think it’s useful to remind ourselves that China & the Chinese people aren’t the only ones being demonized by the ideological fervor of the western media. In fact, I personally think that the Russians get the worst of it.

  13. September 5th, 2013 at 09:32 | #13

    @Black Pheonix
    Yeah, the lame thing is I actually learned about this BBC article through couple of very smart Vietnamese American friends. They are in fact normally fairly critical-minded too. However, they still took the article at its face value.

    When I pressed how does a government stop citizens from talking about current affairs or news Internet, they realize rather quickly how absurd that would be.

    @Mister Unknown
    Indeed. I know that’s been a theme of yours as of late – and is important to know that ideological fervor is broader than just China.

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