Standing, from right, Đỗ Phượng and Nguyễn Khuyến at the Việt Nam News office circa 1993. — VNS Photo
Viet Nam News Two former chief editors of Việt Nam News and long-standing journalists with the Vietnam News Agency, Nguyễn Khuyến and Trần Mai Hưởng, reminiscence about the work and times of Đỗ Phượng.
A VNA trail blazer’s gone
By Nguyễn Khuyến
Internal communications at VNA offices surged suddenly as staffers listened in stunned disbelief to the news being flashed back and forth between the headquarters, local offices and overseas representations.
Đỗ Phượng, former Director General and one of the first-generation leaders of this national press service, had passed away.
In his own right, Đỗ Phượng was the mastermind behind the VNA’s latest development and diversification.
The Việt Nam News is a product of Đỗ Phượng’s creative mind. It was born of a grand plan he thought of, back in the late 1980s, to expand into publication and television, a plan that went against the grain of traditionalists, but which has borne fruit and vindicated him in no small measure today.
Not just a visionary, Đỗ Phượng was a keen-eyed talent scout, and the success of most of his picks is testament to this ability.
The people who, at one time or another, served with him at Việt Nam News will remember him not as a boss, but as an attentive, caring mentor. His name will forever be embedded in the newspaper’s masthead.
The then Deputy Director General Đỗ Phượng (second from right) and other VNA leaders and senior reporters in 1975. — VNS File Photo
By Trần Mai Hưởng*
A glass of wine in hand, Đỗ Phượng (real name Đỗ Kim Phượng) went to each table, greeting old friends and colleagues who’d come from different parts of the country to attend a cultural festival organised by the Vietnam News Agency.
He was his usual charming, gracious and sprightly self, and people always felt drawn to him.
This was little more than three weeks ago, and it is still fresh in my mind.
It was a shock therefore, for many colleagues and I, to learn that journalist Đỗ Phượng, a former member of the Việt Nam Communist Party Central Committee, a former Director General of Vietnam News Agency (VNA) and a veteran of the Vietnamese press, had passed away.
It was fairly recently that he was a guest of honour at the VNA Television Festival and a ceremony to the mark the 35th founding anniversary of the Thể Thao & Văn Hóa (Sports and Culture) newspaper, for which he was the first Editor-in-Chief.
And at a cordial gathering organised by the Vietnam News Agency Secretariat and Editorial Board to mark the agency’s 72nd founding anniversary last month, he was in high spirits as he shared with young journalists his thoughts about the Vietnamese press at present and VNA’s mission as a national media outlet.
I can confidently say that each staff and each reporter with the VNA has sweet memories of Đỗ Phượng, a great journalist and leader who was very close to them. I am no exception. I have many fond memories of him who always made the right decisions at historically crucial moments.
In October 1968, I joined the 8th VNA journalism course with an invitation letter signed by Đỗ Phượng, who was the VNA Deputy Director General then. From then on, I was a member of the VNA family. I still remember the first time when I met him during the course. He was a very simple man, but the way he talked to us was engaging and attractive, and all our eyes and ears were trained on him. He wore a four pocket soldier’s shirt with a collar and a soft cap on his head. That picture is evergreen, staying with me throughout the 42 years I was with VNA, and now, after I retired, that fond memory is still fresh in my mind.
Also vivid in my memory are some of the important missions on which I accompanied the late VNA Director General Đào Tùng and Đỗ Phượng. In early 1972, some colleagues and I were sent to the Quảng Trị battle front. Phượng met us and reminded us of the important mission we’d been assigned before bidding us farewell.
When I wrote a story about the native land of the then Party General Secretary Lê Duẩn, Bích La Đông, being liberated, Phượng sent me a message and congratulated me for doing an interesting story. He also reminded me to take photos and send them to Hà Nội. It was an unforgettable moment.
I returned to Hà Nội before the 1973 Lunar New Year. However, when the Paris Agreement on ending the war in Việt Nam was signed, my colleague, photographer Chu Chí Thành, and I were assigned by Đỗ Phượng to return to Quảng Trị to cover the handing over ceremony of the prisoners of war and write stories about new life in the area of the 17th Parallel following the ceasefire.
Yet another indelible memory is the day I received a message from Đỗ Phượng asking me and some photo journalists to go to Sài Gòn and write stories and photo essays about the eastward advance of the liberation army. Luckily, we were there, at the Independence Place, at the historic moment at noon on April 30, 1975.
Then came one afternoon in November 1979 when Đỗ Phượng asked me to go to his house, and informed me that he intended to send me on a mission to Cambodia to help the Cambodian News Agency SPK during the Cambodian people’s campaign to liberate the country from the genocidal Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime.
Following the toppling of the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime, I was instructed to remain there and help the Cambodian SPK news agency until 1980. Đỗ Phượng was my immediate boss at that time in Phnom Penh.
Then, in 1991, when the first English language daily in the country, Việt Nam News, made its début, Đỗ Phượng became its first Editor-in-Chief and I was among the first generation of its sub-editors.
Looking back through the years that Đỗ Phượng was my boss, I can assert with utmost honesty and confidence that he was a competent and decisive leader, a great journalist, and a compassionate human being.
Đỗ Phượng joined the Vietnamese Communist Party when he was just 17 and became a journalist during the resistance war against the French. In 1966, when he was 36 years old, he became VNA’s Deputy Director General and was in that position for 24 consecutive years. From 1990-1996 he was a member of the Việt Nam Communist Party Central Committee and VNA’s Director General.
For more than 20 years after he retired, Phượng remained an active reporter and activist, engaging in many social activities. He was an active member of the Việt Nam Fatherland Front Central Committee and the Việt Nam Ornamental Creatures Association.
In 30 years as a top VNA leader, Đỗ Phượng always accomplished his noble mission with aplomb.
Journalist Đỗ Phượng will remain forever a shining example for generations of young Vietnamese journalists to learn from.
Though he is no more with us in person, he will forever be with us in our hearts. — VNS
* Trần Mai Hưởng is former Editor-in-Chief of Việt Nam News
Ex-Vietnam News Agency Director dies
Đỗ Kim Phượng, (known as Đỗ Phượng) former member of the Party Central Committee, Vietnam News Agency director general and the first editor-in-chief of Việt Nam News, passed away on Sunday.
He was 87. Born in 1930, Phượng joined the Communist Party when he was 17 and served in many positions from the central agencies to the local governments, and was a first-hand witness to the tumultuous history of Việt Nam in the 20th century.
In 1966, at the age of 36, he was appointed deputy editor-in-chief at the Vietnam News Agency. He became director general in 1990 and in his six years in the post together with the board of directors implemented renovation efforts to help the national news agency keep up with new demands in journalism, including by founding and running this newspaper for its first year in 1991.
In the introduction to his book “Journalism – Unforgettable Memories” (published in 1998), Phuong wrote, “No matter what era, a journalist must be dedicated, righteous, and brave.” His life and works have stayed true to these words.
The wake and the funeral will be held on Thursday morning from 7:30 to 9:30am at the National Funeral Home at No 5, Trần Thánh Tông Street, Hà Nội. — VNS