by Le Quynh Anh
If you happen to visit a newspaper office in Viet Nam this week, you are bound to catch a glimpse of flowers. Although there are still two days until the Viet Nam Revolutionary Journalism Day which falls on June 21, this year's celebration has already begun. The flowers are the gifts sent by well wishers as a token of gratitude.
Viet Nam is among few countries in the world that dedicate a day to honour the profession. Less than 20 years ago, journalism was a highly-regarded profession in Viet Nam, but are economic and technological changes disrupting the established status?
Deputy Chairman of Viet Nam Journalists' Association Ha Minh Hue said journalists played an important role in Vietnamese society. "The State and the public trust journalists as a source of reliable information. When an incident occurs, the natural reaction is to wait for what the media says," he said.
Hue said Vietnamese journalists had pioneered the fight against corruption and social ills, earning them respect from the society.
However, he admitted that economic changes were challenging the profession. He said that driven by profits, a number of media outlets had shifted away from legitimate well-researched news to emphasise crime stories, celebrity gossip - or anything that would sell.
He also said the emergence of this type of new media had also revealed a lack of professional skills by many journalists.
A senior editor at a Ha Noi-based newspaper said that the public's perception of journalists was deteriorating because the proliferation of media outlets, particularly on-line, while offering the conscientious more sources to refer to, they also ended up making many journalists lazy.
"I will not say this is true for all, but there are people out there who will plagiarise the work of others, make up stories or just simply are not knowledgeable enough to write decent works - and have little or no conscience about that," she said.
While shoddy journalistic practices damaged the credibility of journalism as a whole, the editor said another dangerous practice was to use exposure to information to threaten people or seek bribes or favours.
She said: "I am very worried about the lack of professionalism, lack of ethics and lack of morality. There are still many good guys, but the bad guys are increasing."
Media researcher and a former visiting fellow at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, Tran Le Thuy, agreed there had been a change in the attitude towards the press.
"The press in Viet Nam has been growing rapidly but the legal framework has been underdeveloped. For example, there is no libel and privacy law in place," she said. "Meanwhile, the level of professional skills and ethics is different from one media outlet to another."
She said many stories contained private information or were even defamatory, but little could be done to redress the situation because there were no regular channels to handle complaints against the press.
"This contributes to a negative perception about the press. Against such backdrop, it comes as no surprise if people feel uncomfortable talking with the press," Thuy said.
However, all those interviewed for this article expressed some optimism for the future of the press. Press councils and freedoms are debated endlessly in the West as well as in Viet Nam, but the bottom line is that there are still many journalists out there who are thoughtful, dedicated, hard-working and more importantly, tirelessly trying to hold up to professional values. These are the agents that will move the Vietnamese press forward.
And they will deserve all the respect they get. — VNS