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June 21, 1925: Vietnam Revolutionary Press Day

What is this day about?

Almost a century ago, a newspaper called Thanh Nien published its first issue[1]. Prior to the existence of Thanh Nien, other newspapers were existing in Vietnam. But Thanh Nien was not just any newspaper. It was a newspaper founded by Ho Chi Minh – the most important revolutionary figure of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). Hence, the day Thanh Nien published its first issue became a day to celebrate “revolutionary reporters and the press” in Vietnam.

This day is still celebrated annually in Vietnam, with articles coming from the state-controlled press commemorating how journalism in Vietnam has “propagated and spread the Party and the government’s paths, as well as reflecting the true will of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.” [2]

Because of the day’s history, it would be a mistake to think of this day as commencing the right of free speech or free journalism in Vietnam.

How is the state of journalism in Vietnam?

Despite the name “Revolutionary Press Day,” the state of journalism in Vietnam cannot at all be considered “free,” let alone “revolutionary.”

Ranked 175 out of 180 countries by Reporters without Borders [3], the Socialist Republic of Vietnam does not allow freedom of expression or independent journalism. While journalism is usually understood as a tool to “speak truth to power,” journalism in Vietnam is rather a propaganda tool to speak the truth according to power.

This is because journalism in Vietnam is all state-owned. While “official” journalists in Vietnam are sometimes allowed to report corruption, criticism of the Party is strictly forbidden, and those challenging it could face the consequences.[4]

Even among the state-owned journalism platforms, if an article is just critical of either the Party or anyone in power, it would most likely be taken down silently. [5] In more extreme cases, the authorities may punish the newspaper itself. For example, the Phu Nu newspaper was suspended for a month last year because it published a critical investigative article about the Sun Group, one of the largest corporations in Vietnam. [6]

This is further evident in the way journalism is taught in higher education. The most famous journalism school in Vietnam, the Academy of Journalism and Communication (Học viện Báo chí và Tuyên truyền), would actually be the “Academy of Journalism and Propaganda,” if the name was translated honestly from Vietnamese to English. Many university students jokingly call this school “a Party university” (trường Đảng), due to the school’s emphasis on the Party’s propaganda training.

The state of free speech and free journalism in Vietnam is very telling when you look at the very existence of our own organization, which includes The Vietnamese Magazine and Luat Khoa Magazine. The fact is that we cannot work and register in Vietnam, people are blocked from accessing our sites and that we are one of the only remaining independent Vietnamese-run media organizations. One more fact is that other than our directors, Trinh Huu Long and Tran Quynh Vi, all of the organization’s staff writers and editors have to work in the shadows to ensure our own personal safety and the organization’s continuity.

Since the beginning of the elections in 2021, the state has arrested independent bloggers and journalists almost every week, despite the chaotic situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many independent journalists have been detained. [7] Our own co-founder, Pham Doan Trang, an internationally recognized pro-democracy journalist, has also been arrested.

Independent journalists are not the only ones arrested by the state. Sometimes, even ordinary Facebook users are detained for critical comments on social media [8]. It is estimated that since the beginning of 2021, at least 21 Vietnamese citizens have been arrested due to activities on social media.

And there are many other examples of how independent and critical journalism in Vietnam has a very grim future [9].

It is puzzling to think about how Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, advocated so much for the right to freedom of speech and journalism to see his successors doing the exact opposite.

But why does the state have to go to such length to arrest independent journalists? Why is it so willing to damage its human rights records?

It is because the system is so corrupted with power so concentrated in the hands of certain political and economic elites, which VCP leaders know better than anyone else. They also know that if independent journalism is allowed, the people would be better informed about the system’s flaws and failures, and sooner or later, the VCP will lose its monopoly of power as the only ruling party of Vietnam. They know that their un-innovative propaganda strategies cannot compete with honest and scientific arguments that can only be nurtured under independent journalism. They know that they cannot win in a free speech environment.

So the VCP’s fight with independent journalism is actually a desperate fight to cling to power. Do not let their brand as a “socialist” government fool you. What the VCP is doing against independent journalists is anything but what their founder Ho Chi Minh advocated for during French colonial rule. Their monopoly as the only ruling party is so important that they are willing to arrest, suppress and surveil even the smallest seeds of independent journalism and critical thought.

This is now an authoritarian Party suppressing independent journalists. And on this day, the Vietnam Revolutionary Press Day, we hope you remember that.

Bibliography

[1] Những mốc son của nền báo chí cách mạng Việt Nam. (2021, June 21). Báo Tin Tức. https://baotintuc.vn/infographics/nhung-moc-son-cua-nen-bao-chi-cach-mang-viet-nam-20210621071016833.htm

[2] Nguồn gốc và ý nghĩa Ngày Báo chí Cách mạng Việt Nam 21/6. (2020, June 16). Báo Giao Thông. https://www.baogiaothong.vn/nguon-goc-va-y-nghia-ngay-bao-chi-cach-mang-viet-nam-216-d468998.html

[3] World Press Freedom Index | Reporters Without Borders. (n.d.). Reporters Without Borders. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from https://rsf.org/en/ranking

[4] Vietnam: State Violence v. Bloggers and Journalists. (n.d.). Reporters Without Borders. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from https://rsf.org/en/vietnam

[5] Chính, Y. K. (2021, June 21). Nhân ngày nhà báo, gửi lời trân trọng đến những bài báo bị gỡ bỏ. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/06/nhan-ngay-nha-bao-gui-loi-tran-trong-den-nhung-bai-bao-bi-go-bo/

[6] Đình bản 1 tháng báo Phụ Nữ TP.HCM điện tử. (2020, May 28). Tuoi Tre Online. https://tuoitre.vn/dinh-ban-1-thang-bao-phu-nu-tp-hcm-dien-tu-2020052815202924.htm

[7] Rees, S. (2021, May 3). Independent Journalists in Vietnam: The Clampdown Against Critics Continues. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/05/independent-journalists-in-vietnam-the-clampdown-against-critics-continues/

[8] The Vietnamese Magazine. (2021, June 16). Vietnam Briefing: The Election Results Are In. Here Comes 5 More Years Of Party Domination. /2021/06/vietnam-briefing-the-election-results-are-in-here-comes-5-more-years-of-party-domination/

[9] Human Rights Watch. (2020, January 23). World Report 2020: Rights Trends in Vietnam. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/vietnam

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