Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI – Fifty newspapers were slapped with a total penalty of around VNĐ1 billion (US$44,400) on Monday for “wrongful reports” on the effects of consuming fish sauce made in the country.
Thanh Niên (Young People), one of the top newspapers in Việt Nam with a daily circulation of 450,000, was fined VNĐ200 million - the maximum that can be fined – by the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC).
The MoIC said it had evidence that Thanh Niên intentionally published a series of articles that were advertisement driven. The newspaper collected samples of fish sauce available in the market, sent them for tests and published “inaccurate results” across six articles, allegedly providing “seriously wrongful information”, the ministry said.
The series was published in tandem with a survey conducted by the Việt Nam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinatas) in mid-October and stated that traditionally made fish sauce had higher arsenic content than permitted.
The series triggered panic among Vietnamese people who use fish sauce for daily cooking.
Public pressure prompted the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) to investigate the survey findings and arrive at the conclusion that Vinatas’ report was misleading and unreliable as it did not make any distinction between toxic, non-organic arsenic and the non-toxic, organic one. The health ministry also released its own inspection report on traditionally made fish sauce within a week of the release of Vinatas’ findings, assuring people that it had not found toxic arsenic content in fish sauce.
The MoIC said Thanh Niên had “provided wrongful information harmful to national interests”, and it would look into newspapers’ individual responsibilities after the Hồ Chí Minh Communist Youth Union, under which the newspaper was established, announced its own penalty.
The Người Tiêu Dùng online newspaper was fined VNĐ50 million for publishing Vinatas’ survey and citing Thanh Niên’s articles, while Thực Phẩm Chức Năng online magazine had to pay VNĐ40 million. Another six online newspapers - Hà Nội Mới, Đại Đoàn Kết, Người Đưa Tin, Dân Việt, Dân Sinh and Infonet - were fined VNĐ45 million each.
At least 41 newspapers that published the Vinatas’ survey or cited Thanh Niên’s test results, were slapped with a penalty of between VNĐ10 million and VNĐ15 million each.
The MoIC has asked all newspapers in question to post corrigendum for publishing incorrect information as soon as possible. The newspapers must also look into the responsibilities of their staff and send reports to the MoIC on how they have handled the situation as per the laws of journalism.
In all, the 50 newspapers published around 560 articles on the risk of consuming fish sauce, which led the public to boycott it. This affected the provinces that produce the sauce, especially those in the central region that were recently devastated by the Formosa environmental disaster, the MoIT said. – VNS