A still image from a VTC's news report featuring a group of high school students smoking hookah in Hanoi.
State-run TV channel VTC announced that it has suspended the production team behind a controversial report on high school students smoking hookah.
The report caught a lot of attention in Vietnam after some of the students in the video spoke up, saying they had been asked to act as smokers and did not deserve to be vilified.
In a statement aired on Saturday (April 4), VTC14, a channel of VTC, apologized to the 17-year-old students in Hanoi for “professional mistakes” that had led to misinterpretations and negative effects on the students' lives.
One of the mistakes, according to the channel, was that its producers failed to blur out the students’ faces as well as their names and schools.
Previously, the TV channel denied allegations that they staged the report. It insisted that that the video was a short documentary featuring true people and true stories, and that it was filmed with the students’ consent.
In the latest statement, however, VTC14 no longer labeled it as journalism. But the channel also refrained from calling it "staged."
It was simply an educational program meant for warning young people about smoking, with the collaboration of the students, the channel said.
Aired on March 27, the VTC14’s video was one of many news reports on the “harmful” habit of smoking flavored tobacco products, better known as shisha in Vietnam, among young people in recent years.
The video has elements of a typical news report. In less than four minutes, it features a group of students smoking. One of them claimed, apparently during an interview, that “Shisha is just for fun.”
The owner of the café where the smoking took place and a mental health doctor were also interviewed by the reporter.
Soon after the video was aired, the students claimed that they were falsely depicted as heavy smokers who were totally “clueless” about what they were doing to their health.
They also said that their life became miserable as the producers revealed their identities.
They said they had agreed to act as smokers in the report, believing that it was meant to warn young people about the harms of shisha.
Meanwhile, legal experts and psychologists criticized the channel, saying that it violated both journalistic laws and ethics.