Vietnam’s traditional media are closely controlled by the single party. Independent reporters and bloggers are often jailed, making Vietnam the world's third largest jailer of journalists.
Independent bloggers and journalists are the only sources of freely reported news and information in a country where all the media follow orders from the Communist Party, in power since 1975. With 64 million users – the seventh highest number in the world – Facebook is Vietnam’s most popular online platform and serves as a major tool for circulating news and information. The Vietnamese messaging app Zalo is also widely used to share information.
The one-party state aims to control everything and, to this end, the army has developed Force 47, a unit with 10,000 cyber-soldiers who are tasked with defending the party line and attacking all online dissidents. The 2019 Cybercrime Law requires platforms to store user data on Vietnamese soil and hand it over to the authorities when required.
Freedom of the press is proclaimed in Article 19 of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s constitution. But the political apparatus has a tailor-made legislative arsenal that allows it to imprison any news and information provider who proves troublesome. It includes articles 109, 117, and 331 of the penal code, under which anyone found guilty of “activities aimed at overthrowing the government”, “anti-state propaganda” or “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy” can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
By law, the state is the majority shareholder of all media outlets. In return, the Communist Party demands that they serve as “the voice of party organisations, state organs and social organisations”. The party’s central propaganda department meets weekly in Hanoi to ensure that nothing objectionable is published in media outlets, and to praise or reprimand editors when appropriate.
The many topics subject to censorship include political dissidents, cases of corruption involving senior officials, the single party’s legitimacy, relations with China and, of course, human rights issues. Subjects that are deemed to be less sensitive, such as environmental issues or LGBT rights, are emerging on the margins. The Vietnamese diaspora’s dynamism plays a fundamental role in supporting and relaying the country’s independent voices.
Terror is being used much more widely against independent journalists as a result of the Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s imposition of a more conservative line since 2016. The apparatus takes care to suppress all journalistic initiatives emanating from civil society, such as the Bao Sach (“Clean Journal”) group and the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN). Pham Doan Trang, who was awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2019, has been sentenced to nine years in prison. Around 40 journalists are currently held in Vietnam’s prisons, where mistreatment is widespread.r