Despite government controls, the Vietnamese media industry is evolving as it faces growing competition from digital content. One website has come up with an innovative way to woo young audiences - by rapping the news.
So far there have been 17 bi-monthly editions of Rap News Plus, mostly published via video-sharing platforms. On YouTube, some editions have been viewed over 500,000 times.
While the latest is a special sports edition to celebrate the end of the World Cup, most include news events covered in the rest of the Vietnamese media.
Vietnam Plus editor Le Quoc Minh said he came up with the idea when trying to find a way to make news appealing to people aged 13-25, a demographic which he said has lost interest in current affairs.
“We need to bring them something new, something funny. But the way we select and the way we present it’s serious enough. I bring the seriousness to the young people using their own language, their own taste, their own style. That’s my concept,” he explained.
One of the catchiest editions was published at the height of tensions with China following the deployment of an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam. Vo Viet Phuong, 25 is one of the three rappers involved. "I cut the chorus of this and uploaded it to my Soundcloud and then people downloaded it for a ringtone," he said.
Not a new concept
While rapping the news is not entirely new, it is certainly a novelty in Vietnam, particularly because Vietnam Plus operates under the umbrella of the official Vietnam News Agency, VNA, which is known for its conservative approach.
“Many others are very surprised that we have such a thing on Vietnam Plus because we belong to something really conservative, very mainstream. We do not come from a company or something entertaining, but we produce something very entertaining and informative,” said Minh.
In Vietnam, according to law, every publication has to have some kind of institutional sponsor, but instead of calling the media “government controlled” it is more accurate to say “government licensed,” said David Brown, a former U.S. diplomat and Vietnam expert.
“In many cases, particularly the two dozen dailies and handful of magazines, serious magazines that are also making a profit, the relationship with the sponsor is only nominal,” he noted.
That said, there are restrictions on what can and cannot be discussed. Editors are given weekly guidance and occasional punishment if they are too slow to follow instructions on “no-go” things, he added.
Most newspapers depend on a government subsidy of some sort and “pretty much color within the lines,” he said.
However, those publications which are profit-making are more likely to push boundaries.
“In general any publication which is essentially profit-making they are looking at ways to cater to the things people want to read and they are interesting," he stated. "Even if there are no-go areas, such as shall we say a profound discussion of the relationship between the Vietnamese and Chinese Communist parties or something like that.”
Using the Internet platform
At the moment, Rap News Plus does not make a profit. Minh and his team cover the costs of making the videos, but the rappers do not get paid. Minh said his priority is to maintain journalistic integrity.
Companies can sponsor or have pop-ups, but they won’t mention brands in their bulletins.
“We have to respect our listeners. We are talking about the news, not the brands. Even if they bring us the money but we cannot accept this kind of money,” said Minh.
Rap News Plus is not pushing boundaries with content, but the format is a groundbreaking step for the Vietnamese journalism industry. The challenge now will be to keep it new and fresh for fickle young fans.