Work permit for artists not workable

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System jettisoned as ineffective ten years ago will be an expensive exercise in futility, critics say

Singer Huong Tram, the winner of the first season of Vietnam's adaptation of the US reality show The Voice, performing on stage. Photo by Doc Lap

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has attracted a lot of criticism for its move to clean up the performing arts industry by reviving a work permit system.

The move has been described as costly, cumbersome and needless. 

The ministry announced at a meeting last Friday its plan to bring back permits by the beginning of next year for performing artists, with a focus on singers and models, citing their "sensitive" role in influencing social values.

The most common "violations" committed by these artists are lip-synching and wearing dresses that have been considered indecent, the ministry said.

Nguyen Dang Chuong, director of the ministry's performing arts department, said surveys showed that 81.25 percent of the public supported the work permit. "It will help restore order in performing arts after too many violations."

The latest violation made headlines last month when the Ho Chi Minh City government slapped fines of VND35 million (US$1,666) on the organizers of Leggy Night 7, one of the most popular fashion shows in the country, for featuring female models parading in undergarments and running advertisements for a liquor company without obtaining permission.

Deputy Minister Ho Anh Tuan was quoted by Tien Phong (Vanguard) as saying the introduction of the work permit aims to end the situation in Vietnam that "anyone can educate young people about truth, beauty and kindness, including those without any training."

He said other professions like veterinarians require a work permit, so performers whose actions have a bigger influence should also need one.

But Vo Trong Nam, deputy director of the HCMC Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said for social concerns, the art industry does not need another kind of management that comes with tortuous and costly administrative procedures.

Nam, whose office oversees the largest number of independent artists in the country, said the government has been able to punish artists without having to use the work permit as a standard.

He said related authorities should instead do better their current job of checking and filtering performances in advance to stop artists from putting on inappropriate acts or attires on the stage.

He also said the plan conflicts with many current regulations that do not require such a permit since the system was abolished in 2003 as ineffective three years after it was introduced.

Implementing the plan means having to change many regulations, he said.

A culture official from the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho said it would take forever to issue the permit to hundreds of thousands of artists nationwide, and will cost the state budget dear.

According to the plan announced at the online meeting between officials from Hanoi, HCMC and Da Nang, artists awarded titles by the government will receive a work permit automatically.

The rest will be assessed on their ethical standard and performance abilities. Trained artists and those working for state agencies will be given more credit than independent ones.

It says an artist will lose the permit after three performance violations, and artists who had their permits revoked in the past will come under close scrutiny when the new permit is issued.

Officials are also discussing a time limit for the permit.

Many officials and artists have not directly objected to the plan, but they called for careful review of the gains and losses from the previous experience before the latest permit system is launched.

Many artists recalled that they had to pay a fee and go through a lot of red tape for the work permit in the past, only for it to be abolished in 2003.

The permit then cost more than 3,000 artists in HCMC at least VND300 million ($14,300), but the ministry has said it will be issued for free this time.

Ai Nhu, an award-winning drama actress and playwright, said the permit was abolished quietly and many did not know clearly what happened.

"But the important thing is we artists don't see it necessary. Isn't decades of performing enough guarantee?" she said.

Singer Thanh Hoa, who has been awarded the prestigious People's Artist title, the top honor for artists in Vietnam, has a similar opinion when saying that the permit is only necessary to keep young and new artists serious about and responsible for their job, as many of them only care about money now.

But she said what is really needed is better government control. "The permit alone will not stop artists from wearing skimpy or offensive outfits. The government needs to supervise the artists closely after giving them the permit. Otherwise we should not introduce it at all."

Other artists also expressed concern about implementation troubles.

They said the criteria used to assess the artists are not easy to formulate. Vietnam does not have a professional modeling school, for instance, so standards are difficult to set. It is also not clear who will assess the artists, they pointed out. 

Le Chuc, vice chairman of the Vietnam Stage Artists Association, said unclear or facile assessments will rob the permit of any value.

Some artists said that if a permit is needed, producers and event organizers should be the first ones to be required to have it, as they decide how the artists would appear on stage.

They said many show organizers were not trained in any art and were businessman focused on making profits, typically.

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