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Offensive Photo Still Haunts Vietnamese Newspaper

New America Media, News Report, Jun Wang Posted: Jun 30, 2009

Editors Note: More than a year after Nguoi Viet Daily published artwork interpreted by some in as a dishonor to the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), people still show up to protest what they allege is the newspapers connection to Vietnam's Communist government.

WESTMINSTER, Calif. On June 19, the Armed Forces Day of the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), yellow flags with three horizontal red stripes could be seen inside and outside a building.

Nguoi Viet protest
But the two parties flying the identical flags have been in conflict. On one side was Nguoi Viet Daily, the largest Vietnamese language daily in the United States and the owner of the building in Little Saigon; on the other hand was a group of elderly people on the street protesting against the newspaper.

Anh Do, executive editor of the newspaper, said the men are an offshoot of a former group that has been demonstrating against the newspaper since 2008, when the papers Lunar New Years edition published artwork that included a photo with a foot on the South Vietnamese flag. Three people from the local Vietnamese community interpreted the picture as an insult to the flag and began to organize protests against the newspaper.

The protesters came into the building and threatened reporters and editors, Do said.

Like other ethnic media, the Nguoi Viet is seen as not only a journalistic voice, but also as a member of the community. As a result, the newspaper enjoys a closer relationship with its readers and has more influence on Vietnamese readers than any mainstream media. But at the same time, its position as a voice of Vietnamese immigrants places it under scrutiny, with many in the community believing they should have the right to tell journalists what to report.

After the photo, the newspaper apologized and fired two top editors. But that did not satisfy the offended demonstrators. A handful of protestors have since been on a campaign to have the Nguoi Viet to go beyond the apology and admit that it is connected to the Communist government of Vietnam, which took over the South Vietnam in 1975.

When the protesters refused to stop threatening editors and reporters with violence, Nguoi Viet decided to file a lawsuit against them.

Since 1975, five reporters from the Vietnamese community in the United States have been murdered because they had in some way touched on the communism issue.

Its an irony because its the same way Communists treated people who they recognized as enemies, said a newspaper columnist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He added that labeling someone a Communist was an easy way for some people to turn their personal enemies into enemies of the whole Vietnamese community.

Do, the Nguoi Viets executive editor, said in the past people being labeled Communists lived miserably, but in recent years, they learned to resort to the legal system. The newspaper recently won its lawsuit against the demonstrators who threatened reporters with violence. The court ordered three leaders of the protests to stay away from the newspapers building.

The people with bullhorns and those physically threatening the newspapers journalists and customers disappeared, said Do.

Still, protestors have found a way to express their disenchantment with the newspaper without breaking the law. They have put up a Notice to Protesters advising their supporters to avoid obstructing businesses, property and not to prevent customers from accessing the building.

For the protestors, the photo of a foot on a flag seemed to have invoked memories of the ordeal they had suffered in the hands of Vietnams Communist government. Tien Ngo, 65, the youngest among a group of six regular protestors, said he was imprisoned for eight years after the communist government took over. After his release his family continued to live in poverty until he came to the United States in 1995, he said.

Tien, the only one in the group who speaks a little English, said he would stay on the street until the newspaper takes the right action.

The Nguoi Viet must apologize to every Vietnamese refugee formally in the newspaper, Tien said.

A picture of Do Ngoc Yen, the newspapers founder, sitting at the same conference table with Nguyen Tan Dung, who became the youngest prime minister of Vietnam in 2006, has also not helped ease the tensions. Tien asked the newspapers editors to explain why its founder talked to a Communist and what they talked about.

But the Vietnamese columnist said the protestors might be using the communism issue to make sure that their plight in the hands of ommunists is not forgotten.

People want to be pertinent, he said. Those who were persecuted in Vietnam want to be still relevant. Otherwise, their sufferings would no longer be important.

He added that it was difficult for the younger Vietnamese pay attention to the conflicts of the older generation because the youth didnt experience the war period of Vietnams history.

Ultimately, they have to forgive and forget in order to move on.

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