Catholics in Vietnam feel insulted by the decision of the government to bestow two media outlets with Press Awards for fabricating reports designed to vilify Hanoi Catholics, the capital’s archbishop, and the Church as a whole. The atheist government seems to pusue an increasing hostile policy toward the faith.

The Hanoi Moi (New Hanoi) daily and VTV1 television have been awarded with 2008 “Award For Excellence in Journalism.” The daily newspaper was awarded for reports on the protest at Thai Ha while the latter was praised for a TV series in which it distorted Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet's statements made during a meeting with Hanoi People's Committee; and then insulted him for weeks.

Ridiculously, both the two “excellent” media outlets are facing lawsuits from two Catholic women who demand apologies, corrections, and compensation for damages and mental anguish caused by reports stating that they had pleaded guilty in court to charges of disorderly conduct and vandalism, which they denied.

The women were among eight Hanoi parishioners tried last month after taking part in mass prayer vigils for the return of a church property in the capital city that was taken over by the communist government half a century ago.

Mr. Le Tran Luat, the lawyer for the two women told AFP "At the trial, the two women rejected the accusations from the state. They did not admit to having committed any crimes and breaking the law."

"However, the Hanoi Moi newspaper and VTV1 ran news claiming all the defendants had bent their heads and admitted to the crimes. "The report was incorrect," he added.

“The decision to bestow these media outlets with ‘Award For Excellence in Journalism’ insulted their victims,” said Fr. Joseph Nguyen from Hanoi.

“Catholics in Hanoi as a whole were shocked with news of these awards as these outlets have been so notorious with unethical conducts that have been exposed by readers,” he continued.

The reports of the Hanoi Moi - one of the award winners - included a statement made by Nguyen Quoc Cuong, an alleged member of the Dai On parish in Chuong My district who accused Thai Ha demonstrators of "not following the Catholic catechism". To this accusation, the office of Hanoi Archdiocese published a statement confirming "that parishioner simply did not exist."

By the same token, this newspaper also published another outrageous fabrication about someone named Nguyen Duc Thang, whom they claimed to be a "dissident Catholic" with a total opposite view with the Thai Ha protesters. Fr. Nguyen Khac Que, vicar of Thach Bich parish, confirmed that the man was among his parishioners, but there was a glitch to this story: "He died a few years ago," Fr. Que claimed.

Stemming from those reality checks, one can only imagine the reaction of Vu Kim My, a judge from Kim Son (Phat Diem diocese), when he learned of series reported statements he never made appearing on the news: "I never said anything about Thai Ha," he said after reading his alleged statement. To his recollection, the journalist who interviewed him only came to ask a few general questions about the law "everything else in the article was fabricated." he concluded.

The beggar who was paid to speak against Catholics
What happened to the judge confirms what the diocese of Hanoi had said in early September last year about another case, when two alleged priests, Pham Huy Ba and Nguyen Van Nhat, had spoken against the demonstrations. Problem is, according to the diocese, "These people have never been ordained as priests".

The last but not least governmental comic show-down took place when a group a Hanoi TV crew from VTV1 allegedly interviewed an old man on Sept. 4 last year. He was introduced on the air as a Catholic, but when asked for his Christian name, he could not produce one. The actor eventually confessed that he was just a poor man and the TV people "gave me some money to act and speak as instructed."

On a much controversial issue, it involved the Archbishop of Hanoi Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet.

When reporting on the meeting took place in Hanoi between the archbishop and officials of the capital People’s Committee, the two media outlets had picked out an isolate phrase in the Archbishop's comment, taken it out of context in order to accuse him of being a traitor.

Here is the full text of his comment: "Hence, we want to reiterate our wish to build up the nation as a great united block. As frequent travelers, we often feel humiliated to be carrier of a Vietnamese passport because no matter where we go, we've always been subject to scrupulous inspection [by customs agents]. We are really saddened by such action. We desire our country becomes stronger so that we can be treated like Japanese citizens who can pass through anywhere without being inspected. Koreans are also granted that privilege. We hope Vietnam becomes a strong, united country, so that we are respected everywhere we go."

His comment was tailored by state-controlled media into a few words as follow: "We often feel humiliated to be carrying a Vietnamese passport" in order to condemn him of smearing the nation, and thus causing the fury of people in the capital. Obviously, the quote was taken out of context to interpret the speaker's comment in the direction of the state.

Not only Catholics, many Vietnamese journalists also feel insulted with the Press Award Announcement.

Early in this year, editors of the two popular newspapers which involved in exposing the national calamity of corruption and received wide support of their readers got fired for what their writers wrote about the corrupted cadres. Before that, on last October, their reporters Nguyen Van Hai, 33, and Nguyen Viet Chien, 56 were charged with "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state" for aggressive reporting on a multi-million dollar political corruption scandal which involved a series of high-ranking officials. Nguyen Van Hai had to serve out a suspended sentence while Nguyen Viet Chien was sentenced to two years in prison.

Media watchdog Reporters without Borders condemned the trial, calling it the Vietnamese government's "revenge" against "daring journalists who revealed embarrassing cases and brought greater freedom to the Vietnamese press".

The reporters from the infamous Thai Ha trial, on the other hand, had received recognition for something they never been doing with their knowledge and conscience.

From the sequence of events happening back to back following the infamous Thai Ha trial in August, with much negative publicity coming from the public both domestic and abroad, the Vietnam government suddenly found themselves at the receiving end of an unwanted spot light, when all eyes and ears are on the legitimacy and the merit of the "guilty" verdict, much less the sentence.

With the surprisingly light sentences handed down to the defendants, the government seemed to expect a much more grateful acceptance from the Thai Ha defendants, little did they know these defendants would never come to terms with such unjust, illegal outcome of the case. Asked if any of those defendants was surprised or excited about the verdict, all of them would have told you they knew beforehand what was awaiting them at the trial, they however came to trial to be able to tell the world their side of the story and expose the unethical if not evil practice of both Vietnam justice system and the News media.

In a country where the accuracy and ethics of the News media can be easily verified through eye witness, the Vietnamese journalists nowadays seem to be facing yet the toughest challenge of their time, when they can only pick one choice as outlined by Vietnam Minister of Information and Communication Le Doan Hop: either going to the "right path" - meaning following government's guidelines and only write about positive events - or facing jail term.