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Advocacy Groups Criticize Vietnam's Media Decree

People browse through newspapers at a shop in Hanoi, Vietnam. (FILE)

People browse through newspapers at a shop in Hanoi, Vietnam. (FILE)

A new decree went into effect Friday that gives the Vietnamese government greater power to restrict the media.

Rights groups in Vietnam say the law imposes vague new rules on journalists and bloggers that will make it harder for them to work.

The decree establishes fines of up to $1,000 for writers and editors who do not reveal sources of information and fines of up to $2,000 for those who publish unauthorized information.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch
, says the decree is part of an ongoing crackdown by the Vietnamese government against free speech, political dissent and Internet access.

"There’s a lot of innovative journalism that’s coming up in Vietnam, people exposing corruption, people exposing abuses, but ultimately a lot of that will diminish and, frankly, just sort of melt away if in fact the people who are providing information need to be named in the articles," Robertson said.

Robertson adds the decree is problematic partly because it allows Vietnam to censor news under the guise of safeguarding national security.

"What we’re seeing very clearly is the Vietnamese government responding in a very negative way to the greater freedom of communication and information that the Internet provides," he said.

Reached by telephone Friday, a well-known Vietnamese writer said the new decree will deter journalists from reporting on corruption in Vietnam.

The writer says the decree contradicts Vietnam’s 1990 Press Law, which according to Human Rights Watch permits journalists to withhold the names of people who give them information.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed the decree on January 6th, days before the ruling Communist Party elected leaders at a five-year party congress.

Before the congress, Vietnam cracked down on bloggers and activists in an attempt to silence dissent.

The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York says that at least five journalistic bloggers were among scores arrested on such charges as "spreading propaganda against the state" and "abusing democratic freedoms."

The group in 2009 ranked Vietnam as the sixth-worst country in the world to be a blogger. Burma was the worst, followed by Iran, Syria, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.