Vietnam has named a senior military officer to head the country’s powerful propaganda department, with responsibility for oversight of the country’s tightly controlled media on all platforms, state media and other sources said.
Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Trong Nghia was appointed Friday as head of the Commission for Propaganda and Education of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee. He had formerly served as Vice Chairman of the General Department of Politics of the Vietnam People’s Army.
Nguyen, 59, had previously overseen the creation in 2017 of a 10,000-member army cyber unit, Task Force 47, which monitored political comment online, countering statements opposing Vietnam’s ruling party.
Speaking to RFA on Friday, independent journalists in Vietnam said Nguyen’s appointment may mark the beginning of a tighter control of articles about the politically sensitive relationship between Vietnam and China, with others predicting a harsher crackdown on political dissent.
Nguyen may also more tightly manage the use by Party members of Vietnam’s media to expose other Party members’ violations of the law or Party regulations, independent journalist Nguyen An Dan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“I think that the goal in appointing Nguyen Trong Nghia as head of the Central Committee’s Commission for Propaganda and Education is to re-organize the party factions’ use of the media to fight each other,” Nguyen An Dan said.
“The second thing will be to tighten the stories and articles linked to the relationship between China and Vietnam.”
Freedom of expression on social networks may not be affected in the short term, though, because Nguyen’s predecessor Vo Van Thuong had already “exercised strict control over this issue while he was head of this organization,” Nguyen An Dan said.
But this may change as time goes on, because the Central Committee’s propaganda department “will be more conservative, as Nguyen Trong Nghia was head of Task Force 47,” he said.
“The media in Vietnam will face more challenges and difficulties, and under Nguyen Trong Nghia’s management, Vietnamese media will not be able to post the kinds of stories about China that they did before,” he said.
Vietnam’s government carefully manages public opinion in Vietnam toward China, fearing that protests over Beijing’s control over Vietnamese land for commercial investment and frequent intrusions into Vietnamese waters in the disputed South China Sea may get out of hand.
Also speaking to RFA, freelance journalist Thai Van Duong voiced surprise at Nguyen’s appointment as Vietnam’s new propaganda chief.
“I and other freelance journalists in Vietnam consider the Politburo’s appointment of Nguyen Trong Nghia as head of the Central Committee’s Commission for Propaganda to be nothing more than a move toward demagoguery.”
Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Around 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress last month.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.