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Vietnam News Media Regulations 2024: An Overview

Vietnam is currently ranked 178 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. Coming in at 179 and 180 are China and North Korea, respectively.

Indeed, Vietnam’s news media is tightly controlled and influence over what makes it into the public domain is often wielded by entities with money or in positions of power. This is often done by using Vietnam’s often vaguely worded Law on the Press.

Journalists who find themselves in breach of the Law on the Press can find themselves fined or facing prison time. Issued in 2016, the Law on the Press was revised in 2018 to further restrict press activities in the country.

An understanding of this law can be critical in accurately assessing the value of Vietnam news content. In this light, below are the key components of the law that cover organisational structure of news media in Vietnam and that impact what is and is not reported in Vietnam.

The role of the news media in Vietnam

“The press in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an essential means of information for social life,” according to Article 4 of the Law on the Press. It then goes on to outline two key functions for the press:

  1. It is the ‘mouthpiece’ of party agencies; and
  2. It is the ‘people’s forum’.

Within this framework, Article 4 outlines several key responsibilities of the press. These include:

  • Providing honest information ‘in accordance with the interests of the country and the people’;
  • Building and protecting the Communist Party of Vietnam’s (CPV) guidelines and policies, the state’s policies and laws, and the achievements of the country;
  • Contributing to political stability, socio-economic development,
  • Improving people’s knowledge,
  • Meeting the healthy cultural needs of the people, protecting and promoting the good traditions of the nation,
  • Building and promoting socialist democracy,
  • Building and protecting the socialist Vietnamese Fatherland;
  • Reflect and guide public opinion and serve as a forum for the people to exercise their right to freedom of speech;
  • Cover good people and good deeds and fight against law violations and negative phenomena in society;
  • Contribute to preserving the purity of, and contribute toward, developing the Vietnamese language and the languages ​​of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities;
  • Expand mutual understanding between countries and peoples,
  • Participating in the pursuit of the world’s people for peace, national independence, friendship, cooperation, and sustainable development.

There is a lot to unpack here, and it is very open to interpretation but essentially, the role of the press in Vietnam is as a nation-building tool through positive reinforcement. A reading of Article 14 in which the Vietnamese press is essentially a public relations arm of the government would not be wrong.
In practice, this means that Vietnam news outlets are encouraged to emphasise positive news and avoid controversial issues. For example, Zing News was shut down for three months in 2023 for violating the Law on the Press, by some reports, because of what was perceived to be coverage of the war in Ukraine that favoured Ukraine–see this article from the BBC: Vietnam: What are the reasons why Zing News has been suspended for three months?

The role of the Vietnam Journalists Association

The Press Law, under Article 8, dictates the establishment of an association for journalists in Vietnam–the Vietnam Journalists Association (VJA). This body is charged with a number of responsibilities:

  • Protecting the legitimate rights and interests of its members;
  • Define and disseminate regulations on professional ethics for journalists;
  • Participate in the development of strategies, plans, and policies for developing press operations in radio and television establishments, electronic information, publishing establishments, and legal documents on the press;
  • Participate in the appraisal of journalistic products when requested by competent state agencies;
  • Foster the development of professional ethics and trade skills for members;
  • Coordinate with state agencies to disseminate laws relevant to press operations;
  • Participate in monitoring compliance with press laws;
  • Cooperate with international press organisations where necessary; and
  • Organise journalism awards to honour high-quality journalistic works with positive social effects.

To establish an ‘association’ like the Vietnam Journalists Association (VJA) its charter must be approved by a relevant state agency. In the case of the VJA, the most recent version of its charter was approved by a government decision (375/QD-TTg) signed by Deputy Prime Minister Tran Hong Ha. Ergo, the organisation should not be confused with independent journalist trade unions in more developed media environments.

What the press in Vietnam cannot do by law

The Law on the Press, under Article 9, in Vietnam lays out a number of acts that may find perpetrators on the wrong side of the law. The law outlines 22 specific acts under 13 clauses, but broadly they all fall under two key values: don’t spread misinformation and don’t spread information that might create social conflict.
Specifically, the law prohibits the dissemination of content that:

  • Goes against the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam;
  • Creates conflict based on class,
  • Promotes discrimination, ethnic separatism, or the violation of the rights of Vietnamese ethnic communities;
  • Creates division between religious groups or between religious groups and the government;
  • Insult beliefs and religions;
  • Sabotaging the implementation of the international solidarity policy (This is a Ho Chi Minh era policy that refers to collective, global efforts to ensure the success of socialism around the world);
  • Incite war against the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (i.e. referring to the East Sea as the South China Sea);
  • Distorts history; denies revolutionary achievements; insults the nation or its national heroes. (Eds note: The Korean drama Little Women was pulled from Netflix in Vietnam in October 2022 based on this clause);
  • Discloses state secrets, personal secrets, and other secrets;
  • Promotes bad customs, superstitions, and superstitions;
  • Promotes mysterious stories that cause confusion in society and adversely affect social order and safety, and the health of the community.
  • Incites violence;
  • Propagates depraved lifestyles;
  • Meticulously describes lewd and criminal acts;
  • Is not consistent with Vietnamese customs and traditions;
  • Is untrue, distorts, slanders, offends the reputation of an organisation’s honours or the dignity and individual;
  • Accusing someone of a crime before they have been tried and convicted; and
  • Affects the normal physical and mental development of children.

The law also prohibits the following:

  • Printing, distributing, transmitting, and broadcasting news media content that has been suspended, withdrawn, confiscated, banned from circulation, or removed or destroyed, or information that the press agency has corrected;
  • Obstructing the printing, distribution, transmission, and broadcasting of news media content that meets the criteria outlined in this law and any other necessary circulars, decisions, or decrees.
  • Threatening or insulting the honour and dignity of journalists and reporters;
  • Destroying or confiscating vehicles or documents, in order to prevent journalists and reporters from operating in accordance with the law.

The prohibited acts in the Law on the Press in Vietnam are very broad, very vague, and very subjective. By avoiding clearly defined guidelines it gives the authorities a range of options when prosecuting journalists and news media organisations.

Organisational structure of the press in Vietnam

News agencies in Vietnam are all ultimately managed by the government. This is done through a three-tier hierarchy whereby a newspaper (tier 1) is managed by a press agency (tier 2) which is managed by a press management agency (tier 3). It is the press management agency that tethers the publication to the government by way of legal restrictions on who can establish a Vietnam news management agency.

Who can establish a Vietnam news management agency?

Without a news management agency, a news agency cannot legally operate in Vietnam. The establishment of a news management agency under Article 14 of the Law on the Press is limited to the following entities:

  • Government and Party agencies,
  • Socio-political organisations,
  • Socio-political-professional organisations,
  • Social organisations,
  • Socio-professional organisations,
  • Religious organisations from the provincial level or higher
  • Higher education institutions
  • Scientific research organisations,
  • Scientific research and technological development organisations organised in the form of academies or institutes according to the provisions of the Law on Science and Technology
  • Provincial hospitals or equivalent or higher are allowed to establish scientific journals

Organisations in this context are official associations with a charter approved by the government, like the aforementioned Vietnam Journalists Association.

What does a Vietnam press management agency do?

The press management agency, according to Article 15 of the Law on the Press, has the power to:

  • Determine the principles of the press agency, its purpose, target audience, and how it will operate.
  • Appoint the head of the press agency after obtaining the written consent of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC);
  • Dismiss the head of the press agency; and
  • Inspect the activities of the press agency and distribute rewards or punishments as necessary.

The press management agency is also responsible for:

  • Ensuring the press agency complies with the purpose and principles for which the press management agency has been approved;
  • Organise personnel and take responsibility for the activities of the press agency;
  • Confirm initial funding sources; and
  • Settle complaints against the press agency and individuals under their management.

What Article 15 does is put the risks associated with breaching the Law on the Press in the hands of the press management agency and therefore the leadership of the organisation and said leadership’s values. This is as opposed to those of the editors and journalists they manage which often have a very distinct set of values: truth, accuracy, and fairness to name but a few.

Regulations on non-press agencies that produce news

In Vietnam, the Law on Press distinguishes between different kinds of media outlets with varying degrees of newsgathering permitted and subsequently government control. Recognising that content producers were registering as magazines and social media networks as opposed to news outlets, but producing news content anyway, Decree 1418 was developed.

Decree 1418 labels the transition from a non-news to a news outlet as ‘journalisation’. It essentially outlines factors to look for, like the number of staff, the number of offices, and the kind of content being produced that might indicate a publication is straying into the field of news media. 

Enforcement of Decree 1418 is becoming more and more common–in May of this year CafeLand.vn, a popular real estate and business news website, was fined VND 25 million or about US$1,000 for misquoting sources and for ‘journalizing’. It has also reportedly had its licence to operate a website revoked for three months, however, as of writing the site was still online.

Carrying out press activities in Vietnam

Working as a journalist

Firstly, journalists in Vietnam are required to have a press card in order to carry out press activities. These are issued by the MIC. There are a number of criteria for being issued a press card (see Article 27 of the Law on the Press) but in general, to get a press card a journalist must work for a press agency and be a Vietnamese citizen (note foreign journalists are covered in a separate article). This removes the ability of local journalists to freelance legally.

Responding to the press

Under Article 39 of the Law on the Press organisations are permitted 30 days to respond to media inquiries. It is only after 30 days that a news media organisation in Vietnam may proceed to publication without a response. This has clear implications for an industry in which speed and accuracy are incredibly important.
Eds note: Foreign journalists should also keep this in mind when approaching organisations in Vietnam. That is not to say that they should wait 30 days to publish but rather that they should keep in mind nobody is in a rush because by law in Vietnam, they don’t need to be.

Interviewing subjects in Vietnam

Article 40 of the Law on the Press outlines how interviews are to be conducted and gives interviewees in Vietnam a lot more power than they might otherwise receive in most Western media. This includes:

  • Interviewees are entitled to receive the questions in advance;
  • Interviewees must give consent to be interviewed (ambush interviews are out);
  • Interviewees have the right to request a review of their responses before they are published; and
  • Journalists are not allowed to reframe opinions expressed at conferences, seminars, or the like as interviews without the consent of the speaker.

Eds note: Some of these requests might seem confusing for foreign journalists but they should keep in mind that these practices are very much normalised in Vietnam.

Foreign press in Vietnam

Requirements pertaining to foreign press operating in Vietnam are outlined in Article 56 of the Law on the Press. The specific requirements will depend on the type of work a journalist intends to undertake. However, in general, non-resident foreign reporters must:

  • Get approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) to work in Vietnam; and
  • Carry a press licence issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a passport.

Approval and the issuance of a press licence are at the discretion of MoFA and require journalists to submit a detailed dossier of their plans in Vietnam.
Eds note: Foreign reporters will usually be assigned a minder by MoFA that will attend interviews and other research activities a foreign journalist might undertake. This is not enshrined in the Law on the Press but is common practice.

Foreign press agencies with local offices

Foreign press agencies can open local offices in Vietnam with approval from MoFA. Reuters, Bloomberg, and the Associated Press all have bureaus in Vietnam. This is permitted under Clause 4 of Article 56. These organisations are still, however, required to run most of their operations past MoFA.

Why understanding Vietnam’s press law matters

Though this does not cover the Law on the Press in its entirety it does highlight the key divergences in Vietnam from a Western understanding of news media. When consuming Vietnam news media content, readers should be mindful of the intense regulation Vietnam news producers are subjected to, and the adverse outcomes they may face should they breach said regulations.

Furthermore, these risks and regulations are a challenge for new market entrants. This is particularly true in that the scope by which they might differentiate themselves from other publications to drive readership is very limited. As a result, Vietnam’s news media industry is underdeveloped and of relatively poor quality compared to international media standards.

In this light, foreign organisations and individuals looking for a more nuance perspective on doing business in Vietnam should make sure to subscribe to the-shiv.

Last Updated

  • May 21, 2024: Added section on ‘Regulations on non-press agencies that produce news’.

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