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+-----+ Topic: Are our fears justified? by Trinh Nhat

Author: Trinh Nhat posted on 2/19/2004 10:34:39 AM

Say "No" to SBS-TV
Are our fears justified?

On 28th October, 2003 between 2000 and 3000 Vietnamese Australians gathered outside the Special Broadcasting Services (SBS) Headquarters at Artarmon and protested against the broadcasting of the Vietnamese television news bulletin from VTV4, a state-controlled television network in Vietnam. On watching the recent protest rally I surmise that their protest came out of fear.

Why fear? First, within the Vietnamese community living in Australia, some people still worry that Communism will infiltrate the Australian way of life which they value. Second, there is competition between the local media, hence the fear that the Vietnamese news bulletin will eventually saturate the air-waves. Third, the Executive Committees of the Vietnamese Communities in the various States of Australia fear that their influence will be eroded as a result of the news bulletin, which they consider to be propaganda.

But are those fears justified? Here, I venture to elaborate upon the three issues:

1.[tab]It is understandable that those who have lived under the old Communist regime in Vietnam would still harbour certain anxiety. Indeed, during the Vietnam War, there were Communist sympathisers working in the office of the President of South Vietnam; that is some army generals who worked for Communist North Vietnam. Thus, the recent history of Vietnam teaches Vietnamese refugees to be wary of the Communist presence and influence in Australia.

However, Australia is no Vietnam. The two countries have remarkable differences in political culture. South Vietnam in the 1970s was not a democratic society, and was run by a military junta. In contrast, Australia is largely a democratic and non-Communist society that offers freedom of choice and freedom of speech. As long as Australia enjoys this privilege and right, Communism will never be nurtured by its citizens. In the short history of our adopted country, Communism has been present, but, it has failed, and will continue to fail. Therefore, it is time to put aside the rhetoric against Communism in Vietnam, and the dwelling on the psychological effects of a war that is now past history.

2.[tab]I mention the competition between the local Vietnamese media outlets, particularly the print and electronic media (e.g., SBS radio versus commercial radio and television broadcasts). Competition often brings strange bedfellows, and Vietnamese TV and radio outlets fear that their popularity may wane with the masses. As a result, they attempt to outdo each other, sometimes to the point of being controversial. We, as listeners, are at their mercy. Who knows? One day we may be hearing radio broadcasts direct from Vietnam. But as listeners, we also have the power to switch off, and not be patronised, [by those who claim to represent us] in saying what is good or bad for us.

3.[tab]I propose that the Vietnamese community leaders in Australia fear an erosion of their influence. Their organisations represent the vocal minority, who wish to run the whole of the Vietnamese-Australian community, and to force their anti-Communist stance upon that community. This is a ridiculous stance to take. They do not have to convert those who sought Australia as a refuge from Communism, because they are sensible and knowledgeable enough not to be brainwashed by propaganda. They have the freedom to think for themselves and to make considered decisions, just as they did when they fled Vietnam.

In the protest, there were many on-site radio interviews held, and I was interested to note some of the remarks made by those interviewed. The remarks echoed the feelings of mistrust that a refugee community feels against the Vietnamese government. A common thread weaving through these interviews is: the majority of Vietnamese living in Australia don't like Communism, and that they are against the news bulletin from Vietnam, because it brings back memories of their previous suffering and of the atrocities alledgedly committed by the Communists in the name of freedom. There is an another argument which goes something like, they are Australian taxpayers, and they do not want their hard-earned dollars spent on Communist propaganda programs. Some people even harked back to war crimes and atrocities dating from the 1950s, so deep was their resentment.

Of course, these interviewees had very obvious axes to grind, but the most disturbing aspect of it all was that some of those interviewed could not have reflected a true viewpoint on the matter. Young people, aged from 11 years upward, and obviously Australian by birth, stated that they were only told about atrocities, so that's why they protested. Also, many had never even seen the news bulletin in question, but happily said that it was worthless and told lies, so it wasn't worth watching. They even went too far in saying that those who wanted to watch that program should return to Vietnam to do so! If anything, those interviewees, who expressed those ridiculous viewpoints, were probably nearer the mark than anyone else.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were people who rang in on a Vietnamese-language SBS radio talk-back program to say that they appreciated being given the chance to listen to the Vietnamese language, as well as to see the images of their former homeland on SBS-TV. They added that the Vietnamese TV news bulletin is a bonus not only for themselves, but also for their children. For his part, Mr Nigel Milan, the Managing Director of SBS, disclosed that he had received phone calls from Vietnamese people who expressed their thanks to the Management for allowing them the privilege of viewing the ‘Thoi Su’ program.

For my part, I can understand these sentiments. I did not know about this program until I heard about the dissent, and heard a lot of noise being made about it. For the past 30 years that I have lived in Australia, always tuning into English-language television programs, I felt relief when I listened to the Vietnamese TV broadcast. And as a linguist/language educator as well as a media person, I found the program intriguing, particularly the new usage of the language in its own environment. I appreciated the fact that it evoked happy memories in the older generation; and gave them an opportunity to see familiar scenery and to hear their native language again, after so many years of being handicapped by lack of English.

I have a personal viewpoint. That is, I am an Australian taxpayer too, and I have the right to live in freedom without undue fear. Treasure it, for it is not shared by everyone in this world of ours.

Frank Trinh, MA (Hons), PhD
Academic/Former London-based BBC Broadcaster
Sydney, 6th November, 2003

Lastest news: As the result of the two demonstrations; the first crowd drawing about 3,000, the second about 10,000, the VTV4 'Thoi Su' program was withdrawn at the recommendation of the SBS Community Advisory Board, effective as of 6th December 2003. This was a disappointment to the silent majority of the 200,000 Vietnamese Australians living in Australia.

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