TV channels balk at ‘paying for censorship’ in Vietnam


HANOI: Not content with a 30-minute delay on broadcasts of foreign television channels, communist Vietnam has introduced a brazen new law which observers say could force media outlets such as the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and Cable News Network (CNN) to pay for their own censorship.

The law, known as Decision 20, requires channels to apply for an editing license with a government-approved local partner who will “prepare”—subtitle and edit—their content for a local audience, for an undisclosed fee.

The authoritarian nation already bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run. It has also long-censored foreign television channels, which are broadcast with a delay of up to 30 minutes to allow sensitive content to be cut.

Decision 20, which came into force last week, briefly saw dozens of foreign channels taken off air, as confusion over licensing requirements left local broadcasters fearing they would be penalized for breaking the law.

Although the government has previously said news content does not have to be subtitled, foreign channels fear they are the target of the new law.

“The channels are concerned that [the law]appears to force them to contract somebody to censor their content,” John Medeiros, Chief Policy Officer at pay-TV industry body Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa).

Countries across the region, from China to Singapore, censor television content for political or moral reasons, but no other country demands channels enter into partnerships with state-employed “editors”—and cover the costs for the privilege.

Many channels had not applied for editing licenses when the legislation came into effect last week.

No news channels have yet been given editing licenses, although 16 other foreign channels have. The BBC and CNN—which went off air for six days—both declined to say whether they had already applied.


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