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Online reports should not invade privacy

Update: March, 26/2014 - 09:47

by Khanh Van

"There are no ugly women in the world, only lazy ones", said beauty expert Helena Rubinstein. She was right. Women have the right to dress themselves well and make themselves more beautiful.

A recent video clip about plastic surgery - a so-called nose job - on Huong Tram, the 17-year-old winner of a singing contest titled The Voice of Viet Nam, was posted on the Internet. It criticised the operation and stirred much public concern.

The video was quickly reposted by many online newspapers with sensational messages to draw attention.When I looked at the clip on Google, it had recorded more than half a million "hits".

The person who first posted the video must be condemned, but websites and online newspapers that helped spread the images and words deserve more criticism. Unfortunately, incidents like this are becoming more common. They have become commonplace in online newspapers. Sensational news attracts more viewers, that's why reports that violate others' privacy and careers are becoming more common.

After the video clip was spread via the Internet, Tram became depressed. She apologised to her fans on Facebook for not admitting she had her nose reshaped. Actually, she had no need to say sorry. She did nothing wrong. However, the poor girl was too young to handle the pressure.

A famous singer was upset at Tram's treatment. "I am allergic to such news. Many reporters try to explore our private lives, but they sometimes post wrong or libellous information or create scandals to attract viewers," she said.

The development of information technology has laid down a red carpet for online newspapers. However the barrier between social media and online newspapers is either thin or obscure.

It is not clear to the public just what constitutes a blog or forum site and what is an online newspaper. Bloggers are free to pursue their creativeness and ideas and free to make any comments on news and events.

Even some online reporters are prepared to breach regulations and violate work ethics to provide sensational news and personal comments. Online newspapers in Viet Nam often find present sensational news relating to murder, assaults or sexual issues.

Head of the Academy of Journalism and Communication's Journalism Faculty, Nguyen Van Dung, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that many newspapers in Viet Nam were nothing more than attention seeking "rags".

He said that many reporters not only wrote stories invading an individual's privacy, but also tried to dig up information on that person's relatives. "The press has a duty to help society develop, not to look at someone's private life to excite readers."

Dung added that the press had a role to educate and orient the public, not contributing to the spread of negative activities and social evils.

Le Quoc Minh, editor-in-chief of VietnamPlus e-newspaper, said many new websites felt there was a need to follow the trend to draw readers. He said websites or online newspapers should clearly state their purpose.

"If a newspaper goes across the bounds, it should be sued, especially if it is violating the privacy of others," Minh said. "Big brand names would never place advertisements in such ‘rags'."

Current punishment for infringing on people's privacy maybe not strict enough. Violators can be fined between US$476 and 1,400 for violating regulations.

"When administrative punishment is not effective enough, it is necessary to encourage the development of the press based on market mechanisms. Let the market decide the destiny of a newspaper and also encourage individuals to file lawsuits against any newspapers in case of privacy violation," Minh said.

In a related move, the Ministry of Information and Communications has decided not to grant permits for the establishment of new newspapers and other publications until after it holds a national review. This is expected to provide greater control of shortcomings in press activities

As for Tram, if I was her, I would lodge a complaint against the nurse who posted the original video on the Internet. I would also lodge a complaint against online newspapers that cover such news without my endorsement. — VNS



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