by Trung Hieu
"When we turned on the TV, we saw South Korean movies, music and celebrities filled the screen," said Nguyen Chinh Liem, a retired man in Dong Da District of Ha Noi. "Why are we spending the country's time and money to promote South Korean culture? It's absurd!"
Nguyen Hong Hanh in Hai Ba Trung District was equally annoyed.
"As a captive audience, we have to watch the movies that the TV stations broadcast, but I don't understand why the TV channels show Chinese and Korean movies all day. It bores viewers. I wonder if these channels have a conspiracy: broadcasting these shows all day in order to popularise the culture and history of these two countries?"
This mentality recently motivated Hoang Huu Luong, chief of the Press Department under the Ministry of Information and Communication, to ask TV stations to limit foreign programming, especially Chinese and South Korean movies.
"Radio and television should improve the quality of domestically made programmes and feature them more prominently," he said.
Many members of online forums supported this idea, saying that for a long time, the national broadcaster VTV as well as the 63 provincial television stations and dozens of other TV channels have relied too heavily on Korean and Chinese dramas. This not only skews viewer preferences, but also means that young viewers may identify with these foreign cultures better than their own.
"The majority of young people now understand Chinese history better than Vietnamese history," said one of them. "This is because for a long time our TV channels have been saturated with Chinese films. The issue is that the Chinese films are more fascinating and mainly about history, so they attract more viewers. I don't know if we can make such interesting films."
When I talked with an Indonesian journalist working for a local TV station, she said that in her country as well, most provincial TV stations broadcast Chinese movies through the day.
We can't deny that China and South Korea have the largest cinema industries in all of Asia. Their movie studios strongly influence many countries in the region, so it stands to reason that Viet Nam Television (VTV) broadcasts many of their movies.
"VTV broadcasts many Korean and Chinese movies because these are the two leading Asian cinematic industries," said Nguyen Nam, chief of VTV's Editorial Secretariat. "We're always looking to diversify the sources of films, but it is not easy to find films that Vietnamese audiences can relate to. If we show films from other countries, audiences may not enjoy the aesthetics or relate to the lifestyles depicted there. Although we may reconsider our programming in the future, for now we will not give up Korean and Chinese movies."
Another important reason for the abundance of Chinese and South Korean films is financial. The royalties for a movie produced in the US, France, Italy or Australia are far higher than those for an Asian film. Moreover, these movies enjoy significant popularity among domestic audiences, so TV channels would be foolish to refuse to show them.
The contents of these films are simple and easy to understand, and the channels can earn significant profits from advertisements. These are good reasons for the TV stations to broadcast these foreign movies, but there are also compelling reasons why they shouldn't rush to show too many Chinese and South Korean programmes.
Promoting the culture of a foreign country is a very sensitive matter.
In August 2011, more than 6,000 Japanese people gathered to protest Tokyo Fuji Television because it broadcasted too many South Korean movies.
In Viet Nam, authorities announced they would limit Chinese and Korean movies and increase Vietnamese movies after public outrage, but in point of fact national broadcaster VTV and local stations still rely heavily on these foreign movies.
Thus, Hoang Huu Luong's opinion that the country should "limit the exploitation of foreign dramas, especially Chinese and South Korean movies" sums up what small-screen audiences have recognised for a long time: that Chinese and Korean films overwhelm TV channels.
"VTV9 shows eight hours of foreign films every day. Most of these films are from South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan," said Mai Hong, a retired Hanoian woman.
The problem is most pervasive on provincial television stations, she said, like Vinh Long TV channel 1. Although the channel "has eight hours for foreign cinema," she said, it shows "mainland Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese and Hong Kong movies all the time."
Why do TV stations continue to promote the culture, history and lifestyle of such countries and territories?
It would be much better if they acted as chefs and arranged a full-course menu – including Asia, Europe, American and African entertainment – to help viewers have access to the world's other large cinema industries while reserving more airtime for Vietnamese movies. This way, audiences would better understand the world, instead of just spending the whole day watching sentimental soap opera stories full of sappy romance and tears. — VNS