CNN continues broadcast in Vietnam under new rule

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Foreign news organization complies with strict screening and editing requirements

An antenna dish for Vietnamese satellite television broadcaster K+ is displayed for sale in front of a store in downtown Hanoi. Many foreign channels have complied with a strict screening regulation to continue broadcast in Vietnam's booming pay-TV market. PHOTO: AFP

More than two and a half years after Vietnam officially decided that foreign TV programs need to undergo an editing process, CNN is finally set to comply with a delayed and amended version of the controversial rule.

"CNN is currently finalizing a number of operational and commercial arrangements with its local agent and looks forward to continue operating in Vietnam," a CNN spokesperson told Vietweek.

Trinh Long Vu, chief editor of the pay-TV department at Vietnam Television (VTV), said all negotiations with CNN have been completed and the foreign news channel will obtain a required "editing license" soon.

"There is no unsolved problem. The license is expected to be issued in the next couple of days," he said.

VTV has been assigned to screen programming from foreign channels before it is broadcast in Vietnam, including CNN. The other agency responsible for the task is Vietnam News Agency.

Screening problem

Prior to CNN's compliance, local media reported conflicts between the channel and Vietnamese agencies regarding the screening of its programs.

On October 17, The Saigon Times Online reported that CNN may be forced to pull out of the Vietnamese pay-TV market if it fails to reach an agreement on content editing with a local partner as required by a new government regulation.

The news site cited a VTV representative as saying that an agreement had yet to be reached because CNN told VTV that no outside party could edit or intervene in its contents.

Meanwhile, VietNamNet news website reported on October 19 that the Broadcasting and Electronic Information Department faces a dilemma in dealing with the case of CNN.

If it continues to allow the broadcast of CNN in Vietnam, it will violate the current regulations on broadcasting foreign TV channels in Vietnam. If not, it may face opposition from the public, the news website reported.

However, on October 22, deputy director of the Broadcasting and Electronic Information Department Le Huong Giang denied that story when questioned by Vietweek.

"Related information on the media is incorrect. We are not facing such a problem," she said.

Changing minds

The decision to edit and translate all foreign content was mired in controversy from the get-go when it was first issued in March of 2011.

It was slated to go into effect two months later but was delayed twice and eventually amended.

The original decision required that many programs be edited, an issue slammed as unnecessary and costly.

It originally called for the complete translation of all movies, documentaries and news programs carried by all general, sports, music and entertainment channels. News channels and programs on science and education channels would be translated partially, the decision said.

In 2012, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved amendments to the decision in which news channels and programs on science and education channels would not have to be translated at all.

At that time, the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia and representatives of several channels met with the Ministry of Information and Communications, expressing concerns that they may have to withdraw from Vietnam.

They said they could not afford high cost for editing and translating programs, which could be up to US$1-2 million each year.

According to the final version which took effect on May 15 this year, all foreign channels on pay-TV in Vietnam have to be edited to ensure there is no content that violates Vietnam's press and advertisement laws, except for live broadcasts of regional and international sporting events.

Foreign channels must apply for licenses from the Ministry of Information and Communications, and a government -sanctioned local partner will "prepare" - subtitle and edit - their content for a local audience.

At the time decision took effect, many foreign channels had yet to obtain a license. This is still the case.

At a meeting last week, Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son said there were 75 foreign channels in Vietnam and all must comply with the new rules.

"It would be unfair for the channels that obtained an [editing] license, if some others refused to do so. There will be no exception," he said without elaborating on the exact number of foreign channels that have yet to obtain the license.

According to Giang, the deputy director of the Broadcasting and Electronic Information Department, most foreign channels have obtained the editing license as required.

Historically, foreign broadcasting has been filtered for decades in Vietnam.

According to a 2002 decision on receiving foreign channels in Vietnam, the content of foreign channels had to be edited to comply with the Press Law.

But the decision got no more specific than that and did not require the editing license and full translations as stipulated by the 2011 decision.

LUCRATIVE LOCAL TV COMPETITION HEATS UP

The government's stricter management of pay-TV and the concessions made by relevant parties to reach a consensus on the issue happened as Vietnam's pay-TV market is developing rapidly together with a fierce fight between local providers.

According to the Ministry of Information and Communications' White Book, Vietnam's pay-TV market has developed rapidly over the past several years.

The number of pay-TV subscribers in Vietnam increased from 2.5 million in 2010 to 3.7 million in 2011 and 6 million more recently, according to the latest figures compiled by the ministry.

Vietnam had approximately 20 million TV subscribers in 2011, 13.5 percent of which were pay-TV households, and the industry continues to have huge growth potential. The percentage of pay-TV subscribers in Asia is between 40-60 percent.

There are nearly 50 providers nationwide. However, the major slices of the pie are in the hands of a few state-owned companies.

In 2012, SCTV owned 40 percent of total subscribers, followed by VCTV with 30 percent and HTVC with 15 percent.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the number of SCTV and VCTV subscribers has increased from 8-10 percent over the past few years.

The annual market revenue of pay-TV reached US$2 billion in 2011 and $2.5 billion in 2012. It is forecast to increase at a compound annual growth rate from 20-25 percent through 2015.

The Competition Management Department estimated that Vietnam has more than 20 million potential subscribers for pay-TV.

Last week, Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) asked the Ministry of Information and Communications to allow it to broadcast via satellite, besides its current cable services.

FPT and the military-run communication company Viettel have also obtained licenses to supply pay-TV services recently.

Local media said Viettel, who is supplying the services from VND65,000 ($3) per month in a trial run, may reduce the cost to only VND20,000, a move that has prompted concerns among local providers.

Tran Phuong Lan of the Competition Management Department said there has been heated competition to buy the rights to rebroadcast some programs.

"With the participation of VNPT, Viettel and FPT, the pay-TV market is expected to witness a more fierce fight," she said. 

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