HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, January 5, 2015


Anything that is published in Vietnam has to be sent to a censor before it can be released, even publications written by foreigners. People seem surprised when I tell them this sometimes, but unfortunately it's true. We have to send each magazine issue through the censor before we can go to print.

Normally this is something of a formality, as we generally know what lines we can't cross. However, recently the line between what's allowed and what isn't has zig-zagged all over the place. While I was back in the U.S., AsiaLIFE published stories on abortion, drug use and sex shops, and a while back we did a cover story on being gay in Saigon. These all went through largely problem-free.

Last month I had a sentence removed in each of these stories because I referred to politicians (albiet in an abstract way). Annoying, but not a huge deal. Then, for this month's issue, I wrote a story about green space and the impact large infrastructure projects are having on it. This is a topic that has received extensive coverage in the Vietnamese press, and everyone can see with their own eyes what is going on with the construction downtown. Nonetheless the story was fully censored, meaning we couldn't run any of it and had to replace it with ads, leaving me furious. I knew the government was sensitive about this topic since I had considered writing about the subway system but was told no, but I wasn't expecting this. Apparently only the Vietnamese media is allowed to cover this, which makes absolutely no sense. It seems the censor expects people to beieve everything is just peachy even when there are clearly issues you can see for yourself in broad daylight.

One of my colleagues also had to rework much of his story about the aviation industry, which is growing rapidly while experiencing a growing number of safety issues. He was forced to basically write a press release for the industry instead of looking into the tradeoff between growth and safety. Once again this is an issue that has been reported on numerous times in the local press. I guess that's for Vietnamese eyes only. It's this sort of conservative, straight-jacketed type of thinking that will keep Vietnamese media from being taken seriously, as argued in this fascinating New York Times op-ed from the founder of Thanh Nien.    

Luckily I was able to freelance the story elsewhere, so you can read it here: http://thespeaker.co/destroy-rebuild-future-green-space-ho-chi-minh-city/. As you will see it's not even particularly controversial; in fact it's rather positive.

Here is my other story for the month, our cover: http://www.asialifemagazine.com/vietnam/digital-nomads/