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Information Minister grilled on press oversight...

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Minister Le Doan Hop.Internet Controls... Minister of Information and Communications Le Doan Hop was questioned by National Assembly deputies on November 17 about press management, control and supervision of websites with bad contents, telecom-IT planning, management of pre-paid mobile phone services and prevention of spam.

Oversight of the press

Hanoi deputy Tran Thi Quoc Khanh read a lengthy question about the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications' discharge of its responsibility to control wrong reporting by newspapers. Khanh said that recently some local newspapers reported that eating a specific kind of pomelo can cause cancer, or that Chinese eggs were being bleached and sold as Vietnamese eggs, Stories like these, she claimed, puzzled the public and harmed businesses.


Minister Hop said the ministry has been strict on this issue. Last year punishments were carried out in 65 cases, of which 34 concerned the publication of false information.


He added the ministry would boost management and examination of media offices to prevent similar incidents from happening.


He said that in principle, the ministry only corrects simple mistakes; for mistakes that touch on the laws or other ministries, the ministry provides information that help related agencies to resolve these matters.


Khanh was not satisfied with Hop's answer so she questioned again: "If the ministry only corrects simple cases, which agencies deal with the complicated cases?"


Hop amended his answer to emphasize that the Information Ministry works with the concerned agencies in such cases. Press management, he continued, is a sensitive issue, so he proposed to meet Deputy Khanh alone for an extended exchange.


Deputy Pham Phuong Thao (HCM City) asked the ministry's stance on "cultural rubbish" - her term for the tendency of many newspapers to dwell on murders, rapes, and thrilling information for the purpose of attracting readers or to print stories harmful to legitimate enterprises. Thao did not think the ministry was sufficiently strict.


Hop answered that he thought that overall there had been progress from the low point of reportage on the PMU-18 gambling scandal. Acknowledging the points made by Deputy Thao, Hop said the ministry would review its procedures with a view to tighter management.


Dirty content on the Internet


Deputies Cao Thanh Van (Bac Lieu) Phan Thi Thu Ha (Dong Thap), Nguyen Lan Dung (Daklak) and some others questioned the Information Ministry's management of the Internet and the expansion of online games with sexual and violence content.


Hop said he met with many foreign experts and traveled abroad to learn experience but he had not yet found a way out for to manage websites with bad contents. The Internet, he said, has many good points as well as weaknesses.


In the first half of 2009, 895 internet shops were checked, and 205 punished for infractions. Fifty-eight of these were fined a total of 80 million dong and 20 computer sets were confiscated. The typical violations were staying open past authorized hours, allowing patrons to access depraved sites, or to download pornography. Further, many shops don't have proper contracts with service providers, don't post rules of use, or take proper security and fire prevention precautions.


The minister said a combination of administrative, technical and educational measures can be used to deal with the shortcomings of the Internet. Internet users have to raise their own awareness, and learn to to use useful and reject harmful information.


Hop said the ministry would strengthen examination and punishment of internet shops that violated regulations. The ministry will also check out 20 enterprises that provide online game services, he said.


Minister Hop added that the ministry has given a lot of official guidance on these matters. It is continuing its research to complete a framework and policy for Internet content management that responds to practical needs. It is preparing a new set of regulations on online games for the Prime Minister's approval. These new rules were expected to go into effect in the first quarter of 2010.


Visual pollution and health concerns


Deputy Pham Xuan Thuong (Thai Binh) was upset that advertisements appear everywhere, especially at public sites. What was the ministry's role in this, he asked. Hop replied that advertising management is a responsibility of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.


Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hoang Tuan Anh stood up to answer this question for Hop. He said that managing the placement of advertising is a role decentralized to each province and city. However, many businesses didn't obey the rules on advertisement. He said that his ministry would soon propose that the maximum penalty for placing advertising in forbidden locations or with impermissible content be raised to 40 million dong per instance.


Deputies Nguyen Duc Hien from the central province of Quang Ngai and Nguyen Thanh Tam from the southern province of Tay Ninh, referencing lots of letters from constituents, asked about the effects, if any, of broadcasting towers (BTS) on the health of nearby residents.


Hop said that there are 42,000 BTS in Vietnam, a relatively small number compared to some advanced countries. The number will continue to grow as Vietnam develops 3G and 4G technology. The Ministry of Information and Communications has checked 25,000 BTS already and only 117 have failed to meet standards.


Hop cited a World Health Organization assessment that there is no scientific proof the stations harm people's health.


Why, then, asked Deputy Nguyen Lan Dung (Dak Lak), hasn't the ministry explained this to the people? Hop admitted that this is his ministry's mistake and will be remedied.


Source: VietNamNet/SGGP/Tuoi Tre