In early 2019, Vietnam’s press-management agencies began implementing a nationwide restructuring program designed to improve the efficiency of state management of the media and to streamline the media, which has been seen as spiralling increasingly out of control for quite some time. Scheduled to be completed in 2025, the restructuring program is expected to bring about changes with far-reaching implications for businesses.
The case of too many cooks…
By the end of 2019, there were approximately 850 press agencies in Vietnam. According to a Ministry of Information and Communications report, many of these agencies had overlapping remits and conflicting interests, including extensive and out-of-scope investment and poor staff management, leading to numerous professional and ethical violations. It was common for each government ministry to publish several newspapers and magazines. For example, the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations had four newspapers: the Knowledge e-newspaper, Journal of Life and Science, Viet Land Newspaper, and Vision e-newspaper. Under the press revamp , these will be merged into a single press agency.
Bringing the media back in line
In 2020, the restructuring program targeted press agencies whose governing bodies were the provincial and municipal people’s committees, associations, and professional social organizations. Accordingly, those governing bodies could only publish electronic news in line with their credos, aiming to report and propagate the governing bodies’ activities. The restructuring program’s purpose was twofold: to streamline the media by merging all related publications, especially those under the same governing body, into one; and to ensure the content is in line with the credos of the publications and their governing bodies. By the end of 2020, Vietnam had reduced the number of press agencies by 71, according to the government’s 2019 roadmap.
Publications under the auspices of government ministries
In 2020, the merging of publications under government ministries appeared to have taken place relatively smoothly. However, according to industry observers, the reshuffling of personnel among the merged publications proved to be a major challenge in leadership, staffing, and quality of coverage. With regard to leadership, the editor-in-chief of the largest publication was often appointed the new chief of a group of merged publications.
The merging also triggered a brain drain of competent reporters who either quit their jobs due to uncertainties or were made redundant after their sections were joined with those of another publication. They went looking for new opportunities with publications that offered a more secure working environment. This subsequently impacted the quality of reporting and coverage of the reconfigured media. Finally, the merging of the domains of smaller publications with those of larger ones also caused concerns about reduced readership for some of the new-look publications.
Media under Civil Associations
A notable case that attracted public attention over the past year was the restructuring of the Vietnam Economic Times, a prestigious 30-year-old newspaper belonging to the Vietnam Economic Association. Since transforming into a magazine in 2020, the publication has changed its feature content and in-depth articles to suit the new format and publishing frequency. This has resulted in the publication offering a significantly-reduced scope of coverage and publishing frequency. Consequently, its readership, who had been used to receiving quick updates on the economy and businesses, has shrunk notably.
Another outcome of the transformation has been the brain drain, which has caused the quality of coverage of some previously top-tier publications to suffer due to the departure of competent reporters, who moved to lower-tier publications that offer more stability.
Dantri (People’s Intellect), another popular mainstream e-newspaper formerly under the Vietnam Study Promotion Association, has a new governing body: the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs. Following this transformation, Dantri added a new category, ‘Social Security’, to enhance its governing body’s propaganda. It is difficult at this point to assess how the new labor and social-security content could impact Dantri’s readership.
Industry observers expect that when the restructured media’s content is streamlined to meet the mandates of the relevant governing bodies, those publications will face a downturn in readership and advertising revenue since they would find it difficult to cater to the diverse interests of the same extensive readership they once had.
Similarly, e-newspapers in partnership with private companies – such as Zing News – whose strengths in technology attract advertisers and sponsorship, will also see many changes. Under the Vietnam Publishing Association, Zing News is one of the top-ranked e-publications in Vietnam. Zing‘s coverage features a wide array of social, economic, and political issues. Following the restructure, Zing News has now moved its publishing, books, and author sections to a prominent position on the home page as propaganda for its governing body, the Publishing Association. In the future, if Zing News were allowed to publish only articles about publishing, it would likely not maintain its top position.
The next phase
Media industry stakeholders are anxiously waiting to see how the next phase of the reform program, from 2021 to 2025, will be rolled out, as tightening content will be the main goal. Regardless of your industry, staying on top of these changes in the media landscape would go a long way in helping you design your corporate messaging and increasing your chances of reaching the desired stakeholders. As the number of publications decrease, it will be crucial to identify the right media outlets for pitching your content to optimize your budget and meet your business objectives.
(To be continued)