Steamy teen websites may lose their licenses

Published: 29/11/2009 05:00



Director of the HCM City Information and Communications Department Le Manh Ha.

VietNamNet Bridge Vietnamese officials call policing ‘cultural rubbish’ on teen-oriented websites not only an almost impossible task but also a duty they cannot shirk.

Webs for teens: a lot of rubbish

In a previous article, Tuoi Tre daily tut-tutted about the flood of titillating photos and celebrity gossip that masquerades as ‘news’ on websites targeted on teens, calling special attention to the popular teen site kenh (‘Channel 14’). Following up its exposé, the HCMC newspaper interviewed two information monitors, Luu Vu Hai, head of the Broadcasting, Television and Electronic Information Management Bureau at the Information Ministry in Hanoi, and Le Manh Ha, Director of the Information and Communications Department in HCM City.

The Ministry’s Luu Vu Hai: These days, many websites for young people violate the state rules on information. We are quite aware of that situation but we don’t have accurate data on these ‘information’ websites. We can only control websites that we have licenced.

To obtain a license from the Broadcasting, Television and Electronic Information Management Department, an information website must state clearly its principles and purposes. The sites get permits for one purpose but then they operate differently.

We have forgiven some websites for expanding their coverage of social and cultural news as long as they have not distorted information published by other sources.

Tuoi Tre: How does your bureau deal with websites for youth that publish information on habits and customs that are incompatible with [healthy] directions of youthful development?

Luu Vu Hai: We investigate whenever we discover a violation or receive a complaint from the press or other sources of information. If we find there’s been a violation, we refer the case to the Ministry of Information and Communication’s Inspectorate.

For ‘cultural rubbish’ of the sort that Tuoi Tre has reported, the Ministry’s inspectors will investigate and verify the degree of violation. The maximum punishment is revocation of a license.

We have fined kenh14 once for publishing “hot” information. If it continues breaching the rules, it will be corrected. Our bureau will also keep track of other websites and deal with them if there are violations.”

TT: What kinds of violations will be punished?

Hai: For information websites, inspectors rely on Decree 28/ND-CP/2009, which specifies administrative fines for violations in the management, provision and use of Internet services and information [published] on the Internet. We have referred many websites that have committed violations to competent agencies for punishment.

When there are violations by websites that are managed by local authorities, we transfer the case to them. Other cases will be handed over to the Information and Communications Ministry’s inspectorate. We don’t have inspectors of our own so we can’t investigate these cases. After investigation, sites found to be in violation are fined under Decree 28 or, in the most serious cases, their licence can be revoked. If the violations have a criminal aspect, the cases will be handed over to the police for possible prosecution.

It’s our regular responsibility to keep an eye on information websites and make sure that the information they purvey is pure.

Le Manh Ha, Director of the HCM City Department of Information and Communications:

We discovered violations by a long time ago and have often asked the Ministry of Information and Communications for guidance. We reported the case to the Ministry three times in 2008 and twice more in 2009 but we still don’t know how the Ministry has dealt with it. We’ve had to refer this case to Hanoi because kenh 14 was licensed there.

When even a licenced information website operates like this, it’s practically impossible to manage information sites that haven’t been required to have a licence.

TT: Quite a few people maintain that a lot of unhealthy websites are proliferating and will have an enduring effect on our youth. Who ought to deal with this? Is it the business of society, of the family or of some government offices?

Le Manh Ha: Well, every [behavioural] matter, not just what’s on the Internet, is the responsibility of the society and families. However, we can’t just say that and evade the Government’s responsibility. The Minister of Information and the directors of local Departments of Information and their staffs are paid by the people to serve the people.

Luu Vu Hai, head of the Broadcasting, Television and Electronic Information Management Bureau.

Everyone knows that government agencies cannot read everything on the ‘Net to punish every violation. Though we can’t detect every mistake, once a violation is discovered, there must be timely and serious consequences. My office deals with those instances that are within its jurisdiction. Cases like kenh 14’s we have to send to the Ministry, and we don’t yet know the result.

TT: Do you think that we should control websites more strictly, especially teen-oriented sites? If you agree, what’s the best solution?

Ha: It is impossible and unrealistic to try to control all the information on the net, any more than we control what people say, right or wrong, whether it’s a violation of our habits and customs.

Behaviour on the ‘Net is like behaviour in the real life. It will be regulated by the society and the surrounding environment. However, government agencies have to control the information websites we have licensed. It is just like the management of other information media. We can’t just licence information websites but then fail to control them.

TT: The authorities have often ‘blown the whistle’ often on the media, saying they’ve erred in reporting the news, causing a bad influence on the society. At the same time, lots of licensed websites are purveying information that if it persists, according to public opinion, will have a considerable impact on the perceptions, morals and way of life of our youth. It’s rare that these are ‘whistled down;’ instead they continue unabated. Is that because the authorities consider them to be harmless and so don’t need to be corrected?

Ha: As I’ve already said, we have to manage the information on every licensed information website just like we do the [printed] press. Other information on the web, if it breaks the law, has to be dealt with according to the regulations whenever we can identify the publisher.

The HCMC Department of Information has exposed quite a bit of such unlawful information and has informed the press about it. We’ve dealt with the violations within our authority and have referred other violations to other agencies. Our responsibility is quite important when we discover bad information. We hope the media will do its part. Tuoi Tre’s findings [about salacious youth-oriented sites] are quite correct and we should continue to develop them.

VietNamNet/Tuoi Tre

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