New regulations regarding coverage of court proceedings could further stifle press freedom in Vietnam, journalists say.
Under the regulation – known as the Administrative Violations Penalty Ordinance for Obstructing Procedural Activities – journalists who record video or audio of a trial without the consent of the presiding judge risk a fine of up to go up to 15 million Vietnamese dong ($640).
The regulations, approved by the Standing Committee of Vietnam’s National Assembly on Thursday, also prohibit the media from recording participants in procedural activities without their consent. The minimum fine for a violation is 7 million Vietnamese dong ($300). The amount is close to the average monthly wage in Vietnam, according to data firm Statista.
When the law comes into force on September 1, journalists will have to seek permission to make recordings from all administrative, civil and criminal courts.
Journalists found guilty of breaking the law will be required to hand over any recordings.
Vietnam’s Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Nguyen Tri Tue, was quoted in state media as saying the law was needed to address an increase in violations in court proceedings that complicate the work of judges and affect the quality of hearings and the authority of the judiciary.
In Vietnam, journalists have the right to record court hearings under the press law. In other countries, the media are often prohibited from filming or photographing court proceedings.
Legal experts, journalists and even some lawmakers have criticized the regulation, saying that penalizing a journalist who records court hearings contradicts other laws and hinders the media’s right to work.
Nguyen Cong Phu, former deputy head of the Economic Court of Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court, was quoted in state media as saying that sometimes journalists do not release the recordings but instead use the audio or images as the recording. if anyone contradicts their reports.
Ha Huy Son, a lawyer who defends bloggers and activists in court, told VOA that no restrictions should be in place if a trial is public.
“[Journalists] need to make audio and video recordings to defend themselves in case of legal action against them,” Son said. “This settlement poses a challenge to them.”
Vo Van Tao, who has 15 years of experience in public newspapers, told VOA he sees loopholes in the new regulations.
“In the press law, it is stipulated that the rights and responsibilities of journalists, and the press in general, are to investigate and clarify matters of concern to society,” Tao said. “If a law makes it a crime for reporters to record court sessions, then I think there’s something wrong with that.”
In addition to working in journalism, Tao has 10 years of experience as a people’s juror at the People’s Court in Central Nha Trang.
Supreme People’s Court Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh said that while journalists have rights, “the law aims to protect people’s privacy”.
Luu Binh Nhuong, a member of the National Assembly, is among those who oppose the regulations. He was quoted by Vietnamese news outlet VnExpress as saying that unless the trials are about state secrets, military secrets or sexual assault cases, there is no need to limit audio recording and video.
Regarding public trials, he said he believed journalists were entitled to their rights under the press law.
During public hearings, the media often act as independent observers of the proceedings. But if “journalists are not allowed by the jury to make audio or video recordings, there is no evidence to prove the veracity of their published article,” Nhuong said.
In many public trials of journalists or human rights activists, family members of the defendants are not allowed to attend, according to Tao.
During the August 16 appeal hearing for Le Van Dung, the journalist’s wife was not allowed to attend the public trial, Dung’s lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, told VOA.
Dung’s appeal against a five-year sentence on “anti-state” charges was rejected by the Hanoi court.
Tao said the new regulations would “further strangle press rights” in the country where mainstream media is tightly controlled by the single party.
“Regulations that prevent journalists from practicing will expose society to false information, and it will only harm society,” Tao said.
In many cases, bloggers and independent journalists are the only source of freely reported information, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also notes that Vietnam is the fourth-worst jailer of journalists in the world, with 23 detained for their work at the time of CPJ’s 2021 prison census.
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry has, however, repeatedly stated that the country enjoys freedom of the press.
This article comes from the Vietnamese service of VOA.