by Bich Huong
Early this month, the first episode of a new Vietnamese series on love, sex and friendship was aired on Youtube – one of most popular video sharing sites in the world. It was for viewers aged 18 and above.
It was unique in that it was the first film or film series in Viet Nam to reach viewers without being registered with any Government agency. It carried no assessment from a State body and had no publication licence, as all regular movies must have.
The episode featured a young boy and two girls sharing an apartment. Their conversations were often hilarious in true Western sit-com fashion. In the first two weeks on Youtube, episodes averaged 1.5 million viewers. Yesterday, the number of those who clicked on leapt to more than 2.6 million.
Some said the show was funny, others complained that it contained sensational images and dialogue unsuited to Vietnamese culture. Others admitted the screen did partly reflect real-life situations.
The situation has stirred both cyber citizens and the public in Viet Nam, where most cultural products, including movies, have to be assessed by the National Film Censorship Council before going public.
Le Huong Lan, a mother of a 16-year-old boy from Ha Noi's Tay Ho District, is already concerned about how easy it is to upload and access online products, including books, images and videos.
She said she had her home computer connected to the Internet because it helped her son study. "However, I know the equipment has both positive and negative aspects," she said, reflecting on how it is used by her son, who is at an age where ego, independence and curiosity start to take control.
Vice president of the National Film Censorship Council, Hong Ngat, also raised concerns about online films published without having to face any assessment or licensing from responsible agencies. She said the council recently blocked the entry of many imported movies, particularly horror films, because of their highly unsuitable contents. "But there are no mechanisms to filter films published directly via the Internet," she said.
The new online sitcom had been labelled by the producers as being suitable for viewers above the age of 18 years, but it is impossible to verify the ages of those who actually did watch it on Youtube, she said.
Currently, based on film content, the National Film Censorship Council has divided licensed films into two categories – General Audience (Suitable for all ages) and No Children Under 16 (Unsuitable for those under 16). In Viet Nam, there is no classification for teenagers 18 or over.
Last Friday, vice head of the Cinema Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Do Duy Bao, said that although the department was responsible for the cinema sector, it was not authorised to get involved in movies screened on the Internet. However, it now seems, according to Bao, that inspectors from the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Information and Communication are examining the situation.
Film director Do Duc Thanh said that more detailed and clear criteria were needed to assess films of all kinds. He said this would create a healthy competitive environment for film makers and producers.
Thanh said that at present, it was too easy for a State agency, media or single individual to state a film was sensational, unsuited to traditional culture or anything else that occurred to them. "Unfortunately, current regulations and criteria are too vague to assess movies or the way they are presented on television, cinemas or the Internet," he said.
"This leaves film-makers unsure about whether they are making any violations. Authorised agencies are also confused about what to look for and when to crack down on violations," he said.
"Take nudity. How much of a person's body can be revealed before it can be said to be obscene? And how should films shown on public channels be assessed and the ages of those watching them taken into account in developing restrictions?" The arrival of Vietnamese online drama calls for a new and detailed legal framework, he said.
I share the concerns of Lan, the mother of the 16-year-old son, and Hong Ngat from the National Film Censorship Council. Viewers, especially young people, need proper orientation on what they can access in the cyber world.
Official regulations are needed before the situation gets out of control. The first Internet movie might not contain sensational scenes and dialogue, but what about those following? There should be a filter. — VNS