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Bill on Denunciation would discredit the press as tattle-tales

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (center, R) and Ho Chi Minh City Mayor Le Hoang Quan (center, L) surrounded by the press in front of city hall during her visit to HCMC on October 12. An article in the draft Law on Denunciation has come under fire for requiring press agencies that receive complaints or accusations to refer them to officially authorized agencies, organizations or individuals.

Several Vietnamese lawmakers have lambasted an article in the draft Law on Denunciation that would require press agencies that receive complaints or accusations to refer them to officially authorized agencies, organizations or individuals.

Vietnamese lawmakers and international analysts say the role of the media is not to forward complaints they receive to the relevant agencies, which should first ask why people turn to the press instead of state agencies for help.

They argue that instead of forcing the media to rat-out its sources, policymakers should focus on gaining the public's trust in public institutions.

The article has been decried by lawmakers at the ongoing session of the National Assembly, Vietnam's legislature, as infeasible, unrealistic, and even contradictory.

"The article would go against the Press Law, which stipulates that media agencies reserve the right not to divulge the identities of their sources," said Le Thi Nguyet, a lawmaker from the northern province of Vinh Phuc.

"It would just hinder the press's capacity for investigative journalism, which has played a crucial role in exposing high-profile corruption cases recently," Nguyet was quoted as saying in the meeting transcript posted on the National Assembly website. "I suggest this article be scrapped in the law."

Le Nhu Tien, vice chair of the parliamentary Committee on Culture, Education, Youth, and Children, said it was quite possible that if the article is passed, the complaints could be forwarded back to the very agencies the sources are denouncing.

"Unless the information sent to the press is relevant to national security or state secrets, media agencies should not be bound to report them to agencies concerned," Tien was quoted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper as saying on Tuesday (November 1). "This article should be abolished."

International analysts also concurred that the article would hinder, not bolster, Vietnam's anti-corruption efforts.

"I understand that the motivation of the law is to punish wrongdoers and allow the appropriate agency an opportunity for swift response, but policymakers should be cautious about the long-term implications of the change," said Edmund Malesky, an assistant professor at the University of California in San Diego who studies Vietnamese politics.

"There is strong potential that after such a law, informants will be less likely to speak openly with journalists about incidents," Malesky said. "This would both damage the quality and dynamism of Vietnamese journalism and ultimately undermine the ability of authorities to learn about problems in society or policy implementation."

Analysts pointed out that what needs to be done is to take the burden off whistleblowers and focus on the case, evidence and information that a person is presenting and act.

"I think the perennial problem of corruption in Vietnam is that all the regulations don't pay attention to the corruption issue. Why do people go to the media instead of the investigating agencies?" said Jairo Acuña-Alfaro, policy advisor on public administration reform and anti-corruption for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Vietnam.

"Because there is a lack of trust on these institutions. Because there is the feeling of being victimized if they report on corruption stories"¦ So they want to take their cases to the media in an attempt to raise the discussion about the issue," Acuña-Alfaro said.

"The law should be about easing the procedures for denunciations, making sure that the emphasis is on the case and not on the person who is reporting, making sure that anonymous denunciations can be addressed, and making sure that there is a proper, easy procedure for individuals to make the denunciations and an information system that [helps] the individuals and society know what is happening with the denunciations."

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