Due to the interaction of social and economic elements inside the country and in the world, as well as the strong development of telecommunication technology in the process of globalization, the Vietnamese press has witnessed qualitative and quantitative changes in both content and the methods of conveying information and news to and the capacity of influencing society. It is necessary to fully realize the development and characteristics of the press in its current stages in order to anticipate press movements and formulate appropriate solutions and the means to properly manage and bring into full play the positive role and strength of the press so as to significantly support the national construction and development.
1. The strong development of the press according to multimedia trend
After 20 years of renovation, alongside the strong development and great achievements of the Vietnamese economy, the press also witnessed unprecedented changes. Currently, across the country there are 600 printed newspapers, 750 publications, national radio and television, provincial radio and television and 600 district public address systems. In addition, there are electronic newspapers and 250 news websites.
The development of the Vietnamese press over the past 20 years has also witnessed the blossoming of types and forms. It is worth mentioning the diversity of printed newspapers. Besides the periodical publications such as daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, bulletins, magazines etc, there have also appeared magazines focusing on entertainment and advertisements. This means that commercially oriented newspapers have found their niche in the market. In 1986, there were only 5 daily newspapers across the country; this figure has increased to 20 daily newspapers currently. Sectoral and associations’ newspapers at central level and in major cities are issued daily.
The most remarkable thing is the high growth rate of the number of people who use the internet and electronic newspapers. The Internet was officially adopted in Vietnam in 1997. By November 2006, about 13.7 million people in Vietnam or 16.5% of the population used the internet. In contrast, in Thailand, the number of people using the internet was only 7.08 million or just over 10% of the population(1). The respective figure in Vietnam in 2003 was 5.3 million or 6.7% of the population. It means that over the previous 3 years, the number of people using the internet in Vietnam increased on average by 30%-40%/year.
Besides the robust development of press products, the increase in the number of people who are involved in the press industry is also a noteworthy issue. It includes people who do different things in the processes of making and introducing press products to society and the people. In 1991, there were only 7,000 journalists. Now in Vietnam there are 15,000 journalist –certificate holders which means double the number of 1991. This figure does not include the tens of thousands of people who work at the 600 district public address systems, periodical bulletins of agencies, enterprises, and those who do technical or service work at press offices in order to ensure the operation of the press.
The fast development of the internet and types of printed press have created great pressure on relevant people to find out the suitable development orientation for the press to satisfy the public’s taste . This orientation is reflected in the diversification in types and forms and means of major press agencies. At most press offices, websites exist in parallel to traditional press products. Some newspapers have become multimedia papers which publish different types of press products: daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, monthly reviews, special issues, evening papers, electronic papers. This co-existence of different types of press products allows the press agencies to expand their coverage, and balance financial resources between different press products, promote their brand names and make good use of the available information.
2. Diversifying information and targeting audience and viewers
The diversification of information and the targeting of readers are both the results of the fast development in quantity and types of press products and the objective consequence of the impact of social, political, technical and economic elements in the renovation process in our country.
The first thing is the strong expansion of both domestic and foreign information. At home, people’s general knowledge has been improved which makes them pay more attention to the press and actively supply more information to the press. On the other hand, opening policies and the promotion of democracy have truly created a more open atmosphere in society which provides people with more a favorable and practical ability to participate in social debate and discussions on community and national issues.
The promulgation of the Law on the Press in 1990 and the guidelines of the Vietnamese Communist Party on the development and management of the press created due legal frameworks and an open environment for the development and expansion of the press coverage and information capacity of the national press and communications. The development of the press, in its turn, imposes requirements and puts forward the impetus to the expansion of information which is an important condition for the functional operation of the press.
On an international scale, the expansion of economic, diplomatic and political relationships, as well as the relationship between the people, have induced the expansion, exploitation and exchange of information in various forms such as: press information exchange, the placing more resident correspondents in foreign countries, the exchange of journalist visits and publications, radio broadcasting and television programs.
The expansion of these information sources has naturally led to the diversification of information used for the press. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television broadcasting programs, electronic news websites all use comprehensive and diversified information in geographical space, social life, trends, political aspects etc.
With regard to each press product, the general development trend is to become subject-based information providers which are suitable to the taste and needs of specific audiences and viewers. The classification of audience and viewers is still based on age, occupation, geography, education, taste, and the factors and conditions which may insert information influence according to the target objectives. Based on this trend, competition has occurred in the market of press products, and a number of news offices have had to adjust their information model in order to attract a bigger audience who are the foundation of their existence and development.
3. Promoting the role and the strength of social-oriented influence of the press
According to some recent surveys, the press system provided 70% of the information needed by the public. In some areas such as current social -politic events, climate change, weather and disasters etc, the press plays the absolute dominant role. In other words, the public received the information they needed in these areas., In some other fields such as sport and entertainment etc, the press is becoming the major supplier of needed information. Currently, the number of people who go to the theatre and the cinema is partly restored. In reality, theatres, cinemas and stadia are playing less active and important roles in comparison to television.
The press system is creating a great influence in cultural and social life style areas. Images, fashions and behavior shown on television programs and in newspapers are quickly penetrating into social life. The younger generation has become a sensitive group of people who clearly reflect the impact of culture and life style from information transmitted by newspapers. People can see hairstyles, haircolor, and the fashionable dress of young people and students who imitate famous foreign football-players, singers and actors/actresses.
In recent years, the press has played an increasingly important role in the process of promoting events. In other words, the press is not only the transmitter of information or the passive reflector of events. Instead, the press plays a more active role and directly participates in events as one of the relevant factors which influence and guide the movement and orientation of events. The nature of such a role has created pressure of public opinion. People have realized this pressure, for example, in major criminal cases such as Nam Cam case, PMU 18 and misuse of land in Do Son, Ha Phong city etc.
One should recognize the role of the press in the process of formulating socio-economic policies. This role is reflected in various forms: reviewing reality and laying down suggestions for the formulation of policies; discovering and creating public opinion on new matters which require new management and regulations; detecting weaknesses, limitations and the mismatch of current policies and mechanisms, and transmitting suggestions and recommendations for the perfection of draft policies and mechanisms which are going to be issued by the State. In reality, some draft laws and regulations have been significantly revised after they received comments and debates via newspapers.
Besides the active and positive influence brought about by the press, it has also been the cause of complex social corollaries which are hard to rub out, especially negative influences on social psychology, concern and people’s trust in the leadership of the Party, the management of the State on negative phenomena such as corruption and abuse of power etc.
No one can deny the rampant corruption and waste at various levels, industries and branches and among individual civil servants and Party members. However, the achievements in economic and other aspects of social life are remarkable and historic. Most civil servants and Party members are exemplary, active, innovative and responsible citizens who have significantly contributed to the national construction and development. The matter here is that the press has provided society with information which did not fully and correctly reflect the nature of matters and the reality of society. Positive matters, meritous efforts and endeavors, new constructive and useful elements have not been duly and fully reflected.
The second social consequence is the misinformation and irresponsibility of some press offices which have seriously injured the reputation and prestige of some individual citizens and enterprises.
The third consequence is the cultural and social aftermaths towards the people, especially the youth and teenagers. This consequence is the product of a penetrating impact over a long period of time caused by uneducational and violent information which is not in line with our traditional national culture. It is not accidental that France, Italy, South Korea amongst others, are limiting the showing of foreign films on television to 30%-40%. In printed newspapers and radio and television broadcast programs, the Vietnamese language is being violated by the improper use of foreign words and phrases.
4. International integration and expansion of international cooperation
The open external policy which promotes international integration and friendly relationships with all nations not only brings about opportunities for the expansion of economic and political ties, but also creates good conditions for the expansion of international cooperation and relations of the national press system. On the other hand, information technology and the internet has given the necessary means to the Vietnamese press to develop relationships and cooperation with the global press and participate in the globalization of communications. The presence of representatives of various foreign press agencies and their operation in Vietnam also plays the role of promoting international integration of the Vietnamese press.
The expansion of international relations and cooperation by the press system is reflected through the exchange of information and press products. Television is the most active area with the purchase and broadcast of foreign films and television programs. Recently, some foreign telecommunications agencies have established their representative offices in Vietnam in order to propagandize and market their products in the Vietnamese market. This is a lucrative business as Vietnam has not adopted regulations which limit the time frame in which foreign programs can be used in the programming of domestic stations. Whereas, the domestic production of television programs is so poor that they can only satisfy to a modest degree the demands of society.
The promotion of international cooperation and relationships is also reflected in the forms of the exchange of journalists, study and working visits, the exchange of products, documentary materials and information.
International cooperation in the field of journalist training is also noteworthy. Dated back to 1992-1993, the Vietnamese Association of Journalists established a cooperative program with Lin University of the Press with the sponsorship of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which a number of short term training courses were organized for Vietnamese journalists. Since 1997, a major project named “Improving Vietnamese Press through Training” presided over by the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture and Information and financed by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) has been implemented. Within the framework of this project and the communications components of some other projects, annually, some journalists were sent to foreign countries for short term training. At home, hundreds of training courses were organized with foreign lecturers to provide Vietnamese journalists with professional operational methods and experience of the press in developed countries.
5. The tendency of financial autonomy and the formation of press economic industry
Economically, the development in the press sector is slower than that of the production and business sectors. In the early years of the 1990s, when market rules were adopted and became a requirement in the management and development of businesses and the economy, financial autonomy was still an unknown concept to the press agencies. However, these days, hundreds of news agencies have been financially autonomous and provided financial resources and technical means for functional operation and expansion.
In general, one can see that a press economic industry is being formed in Vietnamese society. There are two pillars for this formation: commercial press products and advertisement services. The higher the development of society, the bigger the demand for press information. As a consequence, the demand for press products also increases accordingly. The high growth rate of the economy leads to the greater demand for the advertisement of goods and services. Thus, the press economic industry is witnessing a favorable opportunity for its development. According to unofficial information, the income of the press industry is one of the biggest sources at present, about VND 1,000 billion/year.
The development of the press economic industry has brought about a two-sided impact on press activities. Firstly, it brings about important financial resources for the development, procurement of modern equipment and technology, provision of necessary professional training for the people who are involved in the press operation.
Secondly, the development of the press economic industry leads to the commercialization of press activities which target only at profit without any mercy to the communications function. In this case, communications are only the means for recouping profit.
The formation of press (or communications) groups is also a noteworthy issue. In Capitalist countries, press groups were established on the basis of capital accumulation, acquisition and merger for the purpose of increasing resources and power to succeed in competition and development. The above-mentioned process may have taken place between economic, industrial, commercial and services groups with the press agencies with a view to expanding their business coverage and acquiring social advantages for their development. Thus, in essence, the establishment of press groups is a pure economic process. Relevant elements which may impact the development of the press are merely profit-targeted elements.
In some countries such as China and Malaysia etc, the ruling Parties and State are taking the lead in creating resources, economic, social, technological conditions for the formation of press groups capable of directing public opinion for the purpose of serving political objectives. However, once these groups have become strong enough, these groups are not only communications powers but also economic forces which are completely subject to economic rules in their existence and development. The practical situation in Vietnam and experiences in other countries show that we must thoroughly consider the issue of establishing press groups in Vietnam.
The outline of development issues of the Vietnamese press after 20 years of renovation shows that the modernity, progress and democracy are governing all aspects of the Vietnamese press. These developmental features are a natural necessity of the consistent policy on the press of the Party and State in order to respect and protect the freedom of the press and freedom of speech of the public, to bring into full play the strength and role of the mass media in the national construction and development for a rich people, strong country and an equitable, democratic and civilized society. These developmental features are also the outcomes of the socio-economic and cultural development in Vietnam which is associated with globalization and the development of science, technology, and especially communications technology and the internet.
It would be one-sided if one did not point out pending issues and remaining matters which limit the role of the development momentum of the press. The settlement of these issues, especially those relating to the legal framework, management mechanism, professional code of conduct etc are necessary and sufficient conditions for the promotion of a built-in advantage, international integration and cooperation so as to develop the Vietnamese press into a modern system compatible to the requirements of the national construction and development in the new stage.
(1) Asia Times, Website, 28th November 2006