Vietnam's New Year satire censored

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Scenes from the 2013 edition of the Kitchen Gods, an annual TV program aired during the Lunar New Year Festival, offering sarcastic humor about the country's problems. Photo by Dan Ha

The culture ministry on Saturday issued an urgent statement ordering the strict censorship of a Lunar New Year TV gala known for its sarcastic jokes about social problems and government mismanagement.

The ministry ordered the Central Propaganda Department, which is the media watchdog for the central party, to "tightly supervise and check" the production of the gala to make sure it follows the Party rules and government regulations, and that its content suits the country's culture and traditions.

The "Gap nhau cuoi nam" (End of Year Gathering) gala is better known as "Tao quan" (Kitchen Gods) after a Vietnamese belief that the kitchen god in each house leaves for heaven by the end of the lunar year to report the house's affairs to the Jade Emperor and comes back by Lunar New Year's Eve, which falls January 30 this year.

First launched in 2003, the show is aired live on national TV channels every Lunar New Year's Eve.

In it, famous actors play the kitchen gods from different ministries who report on and are questioned about problems under their jurisdiction during the year.

The ministry's statement said the program should be purely entertainment for the audience.

It criticized the performers for having used "vulgar language and acts" in previous editions.

Audiences have cringed at the news, saying the culture ministry should have supported the program for it's discussion of social problems. They said the censorship will make the show predictable.

Some said the government should have banned the program in the first place if it wants to impose some control, instead of causing the artists troubles after months of building the show.

The ministry's Performing Arts Department said the program last year was illegal as it was aired when the producer, Vietnam Television Film Center, had not submitted the content to be approved by the department.

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