The most vocal newspaper in corruption fighting, Nguoi Cao Tuoi, has been given a record fine of 32,000 USD while its chief editor has been removed from his post after a controversial inspection of the newspaper by inspectors from the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC).
The MIC on February 9 said in a press briefing that it had revoked the license for the online version of the Nguoi Cao Tuoi [Người Cao Tuổi] (The Elderly) and transferred the case to the Ministry of Public Security for further investigation.
Nguoi Cao Tuoi was alleged to have violated Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code by having published 11 articles which “abused democratic freedoms to infringe upon the state’s interests.”
The newspaper also faces a heavy fine of 700 million VND (approximately 32,800 USD) for “violating administrative regulations”, including providing “wrongful and slanderous information that damaged the prestige of organizations and/or citizens.”
Its editor-in-chief, Mr. Kim Quoc Hoa, 70, has been removed from his post since February 12.
Mr. Hoa is currently under police investigation, sources said. Though Vietnam is celebrating its new year, Tet, it is often the police’s tradition to pursue investigations on special occasions to place the subject under more pressure.
Since 2006, at least 40 bloggers and writers, including famous journalists, have been charged under Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code. However, this is the first time a whole newspaper faces charge under this law.
None of the stakeholders in the 11 “wrongful” articles published by the Nguoi Cao Tuoi made any complaint to the newspaper, anyway.
The Vietnamese government maintains a state-owned media with 838 printed media agencies and 67 broadcasting stations. Nguoi Cao Tuoi is one among a very few newspapers most vocal in corruption reporting, though rumor has it that they all are used by political partisans within the ruling communist party in their fight for power.
The newspaper took the lead in reporting many corruption cases in Vietnam, including a sex scandal involving the head of Ha Giang People’s Committee in 2008 and 2009.