Mother Mushroom through American and Vietnamese Media Coverage

By Jaimie Bui.

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One of the trending issues in Vietnam recently is Mother Mushroom, a top blogger in Vietnam, was arrested by the authorities due to criticizing the government.  Before taking a closer look at the difference of media coverage between American and Vietnam’s press about this issue, let’s seriously take Vietnamese political background into consideration.

It doesn’t have such a thing called “freedom of press” that exists in Vietnam. Political rights are totally controlled by the government; citizens’ opinion doesn’t really matter. The authorities have been trying to suppress freedom of expression online, in print, and through public demonstrations. Communist Party of Vietnam is the country’s only state-recognized political party, and its Central Committee is the government’s top decision-making body. The government actively silences critics through arrest, legal prosecution, and other means of harassment. Many of activists, prominent bloggers, and defenders of religions were arrested, detained, sentenced to jail, or even tortured on “anti-state” charges.

According to Ives (2016), the blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, 37, who writes under the pen name Mother Mushroom, was detained on 10 Oct. 2016 in Khanh Hoa, a south central province in Vietnam. She was accused the next day of distorting the truth and spreading propaganda against the government. The charges carry a maximum prison term of 12 years.

The information given above is from an article called “Vietnam Arrests Mother Mushroom, a Top Blogger, for Criticizing Government” written by Mike Ives and posted on The New York Times which is one of the largest circulated metropolitan newspapers in the United States of America. As we can see that the information provided above are simply just facts. The American press neither gives their opinion over the issue nor provide any recommendation. They just simply state the fact about who Mother Mushroom was, what she did, and what had happened. For instance, they state the fact that Ms. Quynh is a co-founder of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers which is one of the few independent writers’ associations in Vietnam. However, one thing I noted here is that they called her “Ms. Quynh” instead of Ms. Nguyen, though Quynh is Nguyen’s first name. In addition, the article also demonstrates the true reason why she got arrested. The country’s news media and publishing industry are heavily controlled by the governing Communist Party, and writers who stray outside the system and challenge the party are frequently imprisoned under vague national security laws.

However, the deeper the article goes about Nguyen’s facts, the more they very latent expose they quite disagree with Vietnamese government. For example, the article states the fact that Nguyen was named civil rights defender of the year by Civil Rights Defenders, an advocacy group based in Stockholm. The NYT doesn’t forget to also disclose that Robert Hardh, the group’s executive director, said he was saddened by her arrest. Moreover, the NYT also quotes what Nguyen said in a 2014 interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group, “why must we agree with the government on everything? Why can’t we have different opinions?” Furthermore, the NYT also includes some insights of Ms. Pham Doan Trang, a dissident writer in Hanoi and a member of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers. She said that the authorities might have arrested Nguyen to intimidate younger bloggers who have been inspired by her online crusades against corruption, social injustice and police brutality. But Ms. Pham believed that this tactic would fail because Nguyen has a lot of supports, and “many of them will replace her or follow in her path.” Overall, it might apparently seem like the NYT only provides the truth without any opinion, yet it somehow shows that the American press might stand over Nguyen’s side.

According to the statistics of Vietnam’s freedom of press, despite the fact that Vietnam has the third highest number of internet users in Southeast Asia, the Vietnamese authorities significantly suppresses freedom of expression online, in print and through public demonstrations. However, many Vietnamese bloggers and political and culture based sites still increasingly use the web and social media to participate in political debates. Hence, the Vietnamese media outlets that covered this issue of Mother Mushroom tend to divided into two opposite currents of ideas.

Vietnamese bloggers that use remote internet servers to avoid detection in order to take part in this debate on social media often praise the movement of Mother Mushroom. Blogger Bui Tin won’t ever stop applauding what Nguyen did. He wrote multiple articles to raise awareness and ask for justice for Nguyen’s case, one of his piece is “Freedom for Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh!”

In contrast, like mentioned above, Vietnamese controls almost every print and broadcast media platform. Thus, major media outlets in Vietnam are most likely run by the state. Articles were written and published through these print and online newspapers apparently take the government’s side to gain back the trust from Vietnamese citizens. One of the article called “Blogger Mother Mushroom got arrested” published by VTC (Vietnamese television corporation) which is one of the largest multimedia corporation in Vietnam. According to the article, Nguyen has been abusing the democratic freedoms, trying to incite people go against Vietnamese authorities and regime, which is detrimental to national security. The article claims that she was arrested because she intentionally tried to raise false awareness from the citizens and convince them to be hostile towards the police force. She made her audiences misunderstand the nature of the problem by insulting and discrediting the government, caused harm to the relationship between the people and the police forces. As we can see that the article uses many strong words to describe how wrong what Nguyen did to Vietnamese government.

Through examining how different the American and Vietnamese press covered the issue of Mother Mushroom being arrested, I could see that the space, length minutes and volume between the two outlets are about the same. Both countries’ press gave the similar amount of insights about the issue. However, it’s obvious to see that the message the media convey could easily be manipulated and twisted under many circumstances such as government’s pressure and influence.

 

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