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Vietnam Delays Foreign TV Rules Amid Broadcasting Concern

Vietnam delayed a deadline for implementing new regulations on foreign television channels for a second time, amid concerns the rules could raise costs and restrict access to information in the Communist nation.

The Ministry of Information and Communications will postpone enforcement of the regulations for six months to May 15, Luu Vu Hai, head of the television and radio broadcasting administration said by telephone today. The delay will allow broadcasters more time to “prepare personnel and technical facilities,” he said. The ministry previously extended a deadline of May 15 this year by six months.

The legislation, known as Decision 20, requires international broadcasters to pay state-run media companies to provide translation services for most of their programs. The move has been criticized by industry groups and overseas governments for raising broadcasting costs in Vietnam, and raising the risk of censorship of foreign content, particularly news.

“The burdens of the translation requirement economically, and the burdens of the censorship requirements ethically, are challenges that the international news channels are unable to meet,” said John Medeiros, deputy chief executive officer of CASBAA, a trade group for the pay-television industry in Asia based in Hong Kong. “The regulations impose particularly heavy burdens on news channels for translation and censorship of their content.”

Vietnam’s prime minister in September ordered a crackdown on blogs that grew in popularity as they attacked his leadership and highlighted allegations of corruption.

The regulation aims to give Vietnamese citizens better access to foreign broadcasting content, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a Nov. 8 faxed response to questions from Bloomberg. There are 93 foreign television channels registered in Vietnam, according to the ministry.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi has expressed “concern” to the Vietnamese government over Decision 20, according to Christopher Hodges, a spokesman.

“Decision 20 has the potential to sharply reduce the commercial viability of foreign television channels broadcasting in Vietnam,” Hodges said in e-mailed comments. “We have urged the government to ensure that unhindered access to reliable and credible sources of information is protected. We believe protection of such access will help Vietnam’s social development, improve its business environment, and encourage investment.”

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