Vietnamese Catholics have reacted critically to the bestowal of journalism awards upon two media outlets for reporting that vilifies Catholics in Hanoi, the Archbishop of Hanoi, and the Church as a whole. Critics also charge the media outlets with fabricating opposition to Catholic protests.
The Vietnamese government awarded The Hanoi Moi (New Hanoi) daily and VTV1 television the 2008 Award for Excellence in Journalism for their reports on property disputes between Catholics and the Vietnamese government, VietCatholic News reports.
The New Hanoi was awarded for its reports on protests at Thai Ha, while VTV1 was awarded for a TV series which allegedly distorted Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet’s statements during a meeting with the People’s Committee of Hanoi.
The television outlet reportedly insulted the archbishop for weeks.
Both media outlets are facing lawsuits from two Catholic women who are demanding apologies, corrections, and compensation for damages and mental anguish because of reports which stated that they had pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and vandalism.
The women, who denied the charges, were among eight Hanoi parishioners tried last month after participating in mass prayer vigils for the return of a church property in Hanoi that was confiscated by the communist government decades ago.
Mr. Le Tran Luat, the lawyer for the two women told AFP "At the trial, the two women rejected the accusations from the state. They did not admit to having committed any crimes and breaking the law."
"However, the Hanoi Moi newspaper and VTV1 ran news claiming all the defendants had bent their heads and admitted to the crimes.”
“The report was incorrect," he added.
Fr. Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi criticized the decision to award the media outlets, saying the awards “insulted their victims.”
“Catholics in Hanoi as a whole were shocked with news of these awards as these outlets have been so notorious with unethical conduct that has been exposed by readers,” he added.
In covering the protests, the Hanoi Daily provided several quotes from one Nguyen Quoc Cuong, describing him as a Catholic parishioner. The quotation accused the demonstrators at Thai Ha Church of “not following the Catholic catechism.”
However, the Archdiocese of Hanoi confirmed that the parishioner did not exist.
In another alleged fabrication, the Hanoi Daily cited a “dissident Catholic” named Nguyen Duc Thang who reportedly opposed the protests.
While a parish priest was able to confirm that the man was one of his parishioners, he reported that he had died several years ago.
The newspaper also quoted Judge Vu Kim My from Kim Son, only to have the judge report that he had never said anything about the Thai Ha controversy.
According to VietCatholic News, he said the journalist who interviewed him only asked a few general questions about the law, but “everything else was fabricated.”
The Vietnamese media has also reported commentary from two alleged priests opposed to the demonstrators, but the two men had never been ordained.
On Sept. 4 a Hanoi television crew from VTV1 introduced as a Catholic a man who could not produce his Christian name. He eventually confessed he was a poor man and the television crew “gave me some money to act and speak as instructed.”
Remarks of Archbishop of Hanoi Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet were also reportedly distorted by the prominent Vietnamese media outlets.
During a meeting between the archbishop and the People’s Committee of Hanoi, the archbishop commented that “As frequent travelers, we often feel humiliated to be carrier of a Vietnamese passport because no matter where we go, we've always been subject to scrupulous inspection.”
He urged that Vietnam become a “strong, united country” so that its citizens may cross borders without being inspected, as Japanese and Korean citizens are able to do.
State-controlled media doctored the remark to say “we often feel humiliated to be carrying a Vietnamese passport.” The media then condemned him for smearing the nation.
Non-Catholics have also suffered from government control of the media, as in the case of two editors of two popular newspapers who exposed a national corruption scandal involving high-ranking officials. Because of their reports, Nguyen Van Hai was forced to serve a suspended sentence while Nguyen Viet Chien was sentenced to two years in prison.