by Thu Van
A disabled man assembles wheelchairs in HCM City's Phu Nhuan District. The job brings an income of over VND3million (US$157) per month. —VNA/VNS Photo Duong Ngoc
HAI PHONG — The media in Viet Nam has sometimes misrepresented people with disabilities, and journalists need to better equip themselves with an understanding of the challenges disabled people face.
These ideas were discussed by people with disabilities and journalists at a conference organised by the Labour and Social Affairs Magazine and the US-based non-governmental organisation Catholic Relief Services, in Hai Phong City last Friday.
The two-day conference was held to give journalists a chance to talk with people with disabilities to better understand their concerns in terms of policy development and the media.
Bui Van Trach, editor-in-chief of the Labour and Social Affairs Magazine, said that although the topic of people with disabilities had received much discussion in the media, the media itself still needed to do more to address the issue as part of the development of society.
"Many of the articles referring to capital Government policies for people with disabilities are too general, while other articles focus on charity and relief activities. Few articles are deep enough to attract readers and change their attitudes," he said.
Journalists, meanwhile, remained passive in terms of covering news and topics related to the issue and often wait for stories or issues to be raised by press campaigns.
Journalists must not only be more active in writing about people with disabilities, but also should develop their knowledge and skills when working in this field to improve the quality of their work, he added.
Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Nguyen Trong Dam said that it was necessary for Vietnamese society to look at disabilities from a social aspect, not just regarding it as a medical issue. Barriers to disabled people accessing services and opportunities also needed to be raised.
The media had a crucial role in raising community awareness in support of PWD and their rights, he said.
"We are in a period of raising awareness and then behavioural change. Journalists are responsible for raising consciousness among people on the issue," he added.
Representatives from agencies and disability rights organisations said that while journalists are actively promoting the Government's policies and reflecting the needs of people with disabilities to the community, many still lack knowledge and compassion when working with this group of people.
Some reporters either characterise PWD as needing pity, or as extraordinary heroes, which left disabled people feeling uncomfortable, the representatives said. Nguyen Hong Ha, project director of the Independent Living Centre in Ha Noi for people with disabilities, said that people with disabilities who had achieved success want to be seen as individuals.
"We are not super heroes. We do need the help of friends and families and the government to account for the success we have," she said.
Ha, who uses a wheelchair, graduated from university and is an English teacher. She also takes part in many projects related to people with disabilities.
"I think it is normal. But when some journalists wrote about me, they portrayed me as an extraordinary person, which I don't think I am," she said.
She said she was unhappy with the article that said she hadn't had any support.
"The information was distorted. I think that journalist wanted to make me look like a hero to attract the attention of readers. But it portrayed me as a person who had betrayed all the people who had given me help," she said.
Nguyen Trung, another wheelchair user, shared a similar story; he was portrayed as being the founder of an organisation for people with disabilities, while actually he was just a co-founder.
"I don't want people to look at me and admire me for that. I want to be who I am, and I really don't want journalists to turn me into a hero so that they can have a news-worthy article," he said.
Veteran journalist Ho Bat Khuat, who works at the Family and Children Magazine, said that it was not easy for journalists to write about people with disabilities.
"It is difficult if journalists don't see people with disabilities as normal people. It is only when you do that, can you portray people with disabilities as ‘normal', and this helps raise awareness among society about how they should react to people with disabilities," he said.
Many journalists fail to look for new angles when writing about people with disabilities, instead repeating old stories of tragedy or poverty, or heroic overcoming of obstacles, he added.
Meanwhile, journalists sometimes lack the knowledge and personal skills in working with people with disabilities, said Nguyen Bich Thuy, a member of the Independent Living Centre.
She spoke of a meeting with a famous journalist where her friend was being interviewed. The journalist stood throughout the interview, while her friend who was in a wheelchair had to continually keep her head raised to follow the discussion because she was sitting lower.
"It was a sign of disrespect. I think journalists should learn how to carry out an interview with people of disabilities, what they should ask, how should they behave," Thuy said.
According to Nguyen Xuan Lap, deputy director of the Department for Social Welfare, the country now has some 5.3 million people with disabilities, accounting for 6.34 per cent of the population. It is predicted that the number of people with disabilities in Viet Nam will remain constant in the coming period due to the impact of environmental pollution, the consequences of toxic chemicals used by the US during the war, traffic accidents, work accidents and natural disasters. — VNS