Vietnam showbiz mess compounded by inept management

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A new musical video by popular singer Ho Ngoc Ha (pictured) shows many drinking scenes, causing the public to suspect that it is an ad in disguise

Even as debate rages over a new management regime for performing artists in Vietnam, a new music video calls into question the competence of people who are in charge, industry insiders say.

The video from Ho Chi Minh City has been released online with many clear images of a whisky bottle and its brand name, triggering allegations that it is an ad in disguise, and that its legality is suspect since liquor promotion needs special permission in Vietnam.

Posted on YouTube ahead of Father's Day (June 16), "Cam on Cha" (Thank you Dad) video by pop singer Ho Ngoc Ha features many drinking scenes and ends with a message asking people to "enjoy with responsibility."

Vo Trong Nam, deputy director of the city's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told news website Dan Tri the video has violated advertisement regulations, but it will only fall under his department's jurisdiction when it is released as an official CD.

"Now that it's online, the Department of Information and Communications has to deal with it," he said.

A source from the information department said it will look into the matter and assess the violations.

Many officials and artists have earlier criticized this kind of loose management, where no one seems to be responsible and everyone seems to take their own time, leaving the showbiz business in a mess.

Objections have been raised and doubts expressed over last week's proposal by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism that the work permit system for performing artists be revived in order to prevent indecent outfits, lip syncing and other violations.

Opponents of the plan say agencies in charge need to improve their scrutiny of shows and programs to prevent inappropriate acts beforehand, and a work permit is not needed. A card cannot stop artists from making violations and officials still need to keep a close watch anyway, they say.

Ho Ngoc Ha's video caught city officials off guard, coming just a week or so after they had fined the organizer of "Dem Hoi Chan Dai" (Leggy Night), a popular variety show, VND20 million (US$952) for advertising liquor on their invitation cards without obtaining prior permission.

The show was also fined VND15 million for featuring women parading in undergarments, a common violation by fashion and musical shows in recent times.

Then, early this month, the Department of Performing Arts at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism canceled the Vietnam Beach Queen 2013 pageant just days before its finale.

The department said the pageant had committed basic violations in organizing artistic performances and beauty contests.

The violations included not publishing the contestants' scores through each round, not setting up official panels of judges, not organizing the semifinal round, and a failure to produce the profiles of all contestants when requested by the ministry.

There were 114 contestants, but the organizers could only produce profiles of 59 of them.

Nguyen Dang Chuong, the department director, said it is looking into allegations about the contest's prize arrangement as well.

The Rong Viet Media Company in HCMC, which organized the contest, has not been penalized so far, and it has threatened to sue the department.

Vu Xuan Thanh, chief inspector with the ministry, said in response to the threat that the company "knows nothing about organizing a national beauty contest.

"The team is unprofessional. They have not organized any beauty queen contest earlier," Thanh said, just two months after his own ministry gave the license to the company.

It looks as though the ministry is being inconsistent, not only in this particular case, but about the whole system.

A decision by minister Hoang Tuan Anh in 2008 limited national beauty queen contests to one,  but there are several held every year, not to mention similar contests at city and provincial levels, as also contests by professions and schools.

The country has so many "Misses" and "Queens" each year that even reporters in charge of the section cannot keep track of them.

Too much or too little?

Critics are divided over the freedom of expression being granted to artists. Some say it is too much and others say it is too little. 

Hanoi authorities early this month fined songwriter Ngoc Dai VND30 million ($1,428) and revoked his album for using erotic lyrics and not applying for a license.

"It says bad things about the country and the language is vulgar," said a statement by the Department of Performing Arts about the album, named "Thằng mõ 1" ("thằng mõ" is a person who does menial jobs for the village chiefs).

But the author said he does not think phrases like "let's make love" or "release your sperms" are vulgar.

"Whoever calls them vulgar does not understand. These words are what many people and I use in their normal life. They just reflect the reproductive energy," Dai said in a Dan Tri report.

Some songwriters have said Dai just wanted to be different.

Dai said he did not ask for a license as he wants to be totally free in creating music.

He told the local media that he has managed to sell 900 of 1,000 copies of the album.

"Some people might like it, some might not. But I have not heard anyone complaining loudly about it."

But the complaints have been loud and clear about the state of showbiz industry and the way it is managed. 

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