by Le Quynh Anh
Following the stabbing murder of the proprietor of a gold-shop in Ha Noi last Thursday, some online newspapers published video footage of the killing taken just a few metres away - raw and uncut.
The seven-minute clip went viral during the hunt for the man, who later confessed to the crime. While the footage may have helped identify the murderer, its length approached the level of voyeurism and did nothing to settle the minds of youngsters unused to great acts of violence.
Welcome to the visual age!
While this kind of crime coverage is rare in Viet Nam, many people feel appalled at the length some media outlets will go to get ratings. The move to present the footage to millions of viewers before the case has been presented in court is a direct violation of Article 10 of the Press Law. However, this does not seem to worry some media outlets.
And this is not an exceptional case, visually rich reports on anti-social behaviour and crime appear to be taking an increasing share of the online media domain.
Given that Viet Nam is among the fastest growing internet countries in Asia, increasing exposure to violence in any form of media becomes a worry.
Director of the Institute for Social Development Studies Khuat Thu Hong was outraged at the move to release the clip to the public. Speaking to Viet Nam News yesterday, she said such sensational reporting was morally unacceptable.
Hong said the macabre footage could affect young people, especially those not emotionally or psychologically mature.
This included those who had little communication with the outside world. She said there was a high chance they would become seriously depressed.
"This focusing-on-the-dark-side approach nurtures a big sense of insecurity and fear not only in children, but also in their parents," said Hong. "Some parents even go to great lengths to protect their children from the real world. This may hamper their development."
She said what could be more dangerous was that negative news stories could create the misconception that wild, violent or other aberrant behaviour was normal.
"I would not be surprised if a new generation grows up to be apathetic and with no moral sense," she said.
A media researcher and a former visiting fellow at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford University, Tran Le Thuy, said that the current trend towards sensationalism or "tabloidisation" in the media was not reversible because most media outlets were financially independent and therefore, more and more driven by profit.
"The vast amount of violent content in the media that is accessible by children surprisingly appears to have little restriction. It's quite common to see children watching gangster movies on TV with the family during meals or graphic details of crime cases available on online newspapers," she said.
Thuy hightlighted the need for a more sophisticated media monitoring system which would involve more active participation from the public in screening obscenity and violent content.
"The system should be transparent, fair and people-friendly to make sure readers' complaints about editorial content are handled properly and quickly," she said. "The system would not restrict the media, but to give way to fair and responsible journalism."
At the same time, for better law enforcement, regulations should be more specific to address both traditional and emerging forms of violations.
Many psychologists blame the increase in youth crime and violence on educational shortcomings in families and at schools. The media should also realise that the public is on the receiving end of news and information that vitally affects every aspect of their lives – not just the fortunes of media proprietors. — VNS