Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reuters to launch Vietnamese news service?

Reuters appears to be setting up a Vietnamese language news service, a move that would be in defiance of the dominant atmosphere of censorship in the communist-ruled nation and that points to a maturing in Vietnam's nascent capital markets.

According to its careers website, Thomson Reuters is recruiting a translator for its Hanoi bureau "to convert English-language financial news stories from around the globe into Vietnamese."

In addition to its main English news service, Reuters operates more than 20 foreign language news services, including Chinese, Japanese and Turkish wires.

But the Vietnamese government is no friend of the media. In addition to its almost total control of the domestic media and its regular detention of the more enterprising Vietnamese journalists, the government places tight restrictions on the few accredited foreign correspondents in Hanoi.

Moreover, the government is particularly sensitive about foreign news organisations publishing stories in Vietnamese. The BBC Vietnamese website is often blocked by censors, alongside the likes of Facebook.

While most people wouldn't find anything controversial in translated Reuters stories about US jobless figures or Chinese motorbike sales, it doesn't take much to arouse the concern of Vietnam's paranoid government censors, particularly with the five-yearly Party congress just a year away.

I presume that Reuters have applied for and obtained clearance from the Vietnamese government for their latest venture. Otherwise they may be storing up some trouble.

Intellasia, an Australian-run website that provided straight-up English translations of news stories culled from Communist Party-owned newspapers, was closed down in 2008 and its founder forced to flee Vietnam after he was accused of publishing without a license.

Regardless of what the Vietnamese government thinks, Reuters' apparent desire to set up a Vietnamese service points to the fact that a capital market culture is starting to become more deeply-embedded in Vietnam. Much of the trading on the main Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange remains driven by a combination of cheap borrowing, rumour and insider dealing.

But if there is a demand for a Vietnamese language financial wire, it's evidence that the market culture is maturing.

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