Climate of fear engulfs Vietnam’s mainstream media

A fear-cloaked dynamic has increasingly percolated Vietnam’s information environment, in both cyberspace and the mainstream media.

A decree guiding the controversial Cybersecurity Law, which took effect in October 2022, looks to further empower Vietnamese authorities to censor online content they disfavour and bolster the state’s digital surveillance capacity. This regulatory move is just one of the latest in a spate of laws and regulations that reflect Hanoi’s attempt to exert ever-tighter controls over the digital space.

The heyday of Vietnam’s critical journalism in the 2000s was short-lived. In 2008, an unprecedented state-sanctioned crackdown on the press led to the arrest of two Vietnamese investigative journalists and the dismissal of the editors-in-chief of Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien — the two most influential newspapers.

The authorities never clearly articulated their rationale for the crackdown, but it was likely because mainstream media crossed a line in its coverage of corruption. As the authorities lack the wherewithal to punish every single transgressor, their strategy of choice has been to kill the chicken to scare the monkey — a tactic that seems to be working.

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Dien Luong, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute