Former BBC editor advises Vietnam on media responsibility

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A former British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) editor told a conference in Vietnam Wednesday that learning about the UK's defamation laws could help Vietnamese media report more responsibly on corruption.

"We will show how defamation law as applied in the UK can both protect the reputation of individuals and organizations but also enable the media to report responsibly about matters of significance for the public... We will also ask whether there are any lessons to be learnt for Vietnam," Stephen Whittle, former BBC Controller of Editorial Policy told the conference held with the support of the British Embassy in Hanoi.

The conference, which attracted journalists, top editors and key press regulators from Vietnam Ministry of Information and Communications, discussed defamation issues in Vietnam and introduced British law

Tran Le Thuy, visiting fellow of Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, said UK laws could "provide clear-cut guidelines" for Vietnam on how to "report and publish statements that risk serious reputation damage to individuals or organizations."

Whittle said in a co-report on defamation with Thuy if the media have the right to report and promote the public good, they have to be responsible in how they do it."

The co-writers said newspapers have an important and professional task to expose the wrong like the fraudulent or the scandalous but they have to prove that they stand on facts and their words are justified.

Media analysts have long criticized the BBC and other UK media outlets for failing to do just that in reporting on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction without independently confirming government reports and checking facts in the run up to the US and UK-led invasion of that country in 2003.

Peter Connolly, the British Charge D'Affaires, said Vietnam media had developed "rapidly."

But he noted there are also "an increasing number of libel cases taken to the court."

"We hope the sharing of British experience on defamation law will help Vietnam to develop and regulate a healthy, responsible press."

Several of the most high-profile libel cases in the UK have revolved around MP George Galloway. In 2004, Galloway won 150,000 pound in libel damages from the Daily Telegraph when the paper errantly claimed he had received money from Saddam Hussein.

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