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Fired Vietnamese Editor Launches Blog

New America Media, News Report, Kenneth Kim Posted: May 27, 2008

Editors Note: Hao-Nhien Vu was fired a few months ago from the largest Vietnamese language paper in the country for his role in publishing a controversial image that sparked demonstrations in Little Saigon. But Vu continues to report and speak his mind, even if hes now looking for a job, writes NAM reporter Kenneth Kim.

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif.In the past three months, in addition to updating his blog, Hao-Nhien Vu, former managing editor of Nguoi Viet Daily, has been searching for a job. Like any fired worker, he circulates his resume, works his contacts and anxiously awaits a call from a prospective employer willing to hire a man at the epicenter of a heated, emotional controversy.

What makes the predicament of this 44-year-old man with a masters degree in mathematics unique is the reason he lost his job. Unlike mainstream journalists who suddenly find themselves polishing their resumes as newspapers teeter on the brink of failure because of falling profits, Vu, who once led the day-to-day operations of the largest and oldest Vietnamese daily in the United States, was fired for a story that was deemed offensive by the community.

In a Lunar New Years special edition, the Vietnamese-language newspaper under Vus watch published a photo and a story that he had found on a Vietnamese artists Web site. He thought the story about a nail salon worker who put her son and daughter-in-law through college exemplified the sacrifices first-generation Vietnamese women make for their childrens success. Along with the feature story, Vu ran a photograph of a footbath painted in yellow and red stripes of the South Vietnamese flag.

Despite the intention to honor those who often endured dreadful working conditions in nail salons, some members of the exiled community saw the picture as an insult not only to the sacred flag of the lost country but to the diaspora at large. Hundreds of raucous, violent protesters started picketing every day outside the newspaper in Orange Countys Little Saigon neighborhood in February.

To curtail public anger, the newspaper withdrew the issue, apologized at a public event that was broadcast internationally on the Internet, forced Vu and editor-in-chief Anh Vu (no relation) to work from home and then, eventually, fired them. Anh Vu declined to be interviewed for this story.

I respect the decision that the company made, said Hao-Nhien Vu. I believe any corporation has every right to hire and fire employees. I also respect the protesters exercising their constitutional right. But, I dont think Ive done anything wrong.

He admitted that the photo alone could have been seen as offensive by some. But if you put the photo in the context of the story, Vu insisted, I dont think anyone should find it offensive. It was a tribute, not an insult.

But his former employer offered a different reason for Vus firing. In a recent conference organized in response to the ongoing anti-communist protests targeting Nguoi Viet Daily, Anh Do, executive editor of the paper, said the two editors were terminated for violation of the companys protocols, a self-protective mechanism to prevent inflammatory and libelous news stories from getting published.

An internal investigation was launched after people complained, and it was revealed the editors who decided to publish the story didnt follow a protocol mandating going through a chain of command, said Do.

Because of the photo Vu published, Nguoi Viet is now paying a hefty price, facing an on-going protest, to the point where its freedom of press is seriously threatened.

Infuriated by the photo, protestors stormed the newspapers lobby, blocked the entryway and exit to the parking lot, urinated on a mural dedicated to freedom of speech and the Bill of Rights, took a stack of newspapers from a newsstand and shredded it, and even sent a bomb threat to the newspaper. As the situation escalated, last month the Westminster Police Department arrested a man on suspicion of assaulting one of the newspaper's reporters, and an Orange County Superior Court Judge restricted protesters from threatening employees and vandalizing newspaper property.

According to Do, whose late father founded the paper three decades ago, some protestors have even threatened to dig up her fathers corpse in order to desecrate it.

Vu sympathizes with the newspapers struggles, but he is not content with Nguoi Viet's response to the protests. He says the newspaper should have stood by him and spoken out more strongly for what it believes in. He adds that he didnt know about the newspaper's protocol. He says the paper's move to fire two editors sent the wrong message: it convinced the protesters that news media could be manipulated with enough pressure. It started a trend of Vietnamese media giving in to the communitys pressure and protesters strutting around as if they are the kings of Little Saigon and telling the media what to do," he said. "It has hurt our community.

However, the setbacks that caused Vu to lose the status, self-esteem and job security of his position couldnt keep Vu from reporting and writing.

Since he lost his job, Vu started a blog called Bolsavik - a play on the name Bolsa Avenue that runs through the heart of bustling Vietnamese community in Westminster, known as Little Saigon. But his blog is in English, unlike Nguoi Viet, which is largely a Vietnamese language paper.

Through the blog, Vu still writes about the Vietnamese community and enjoys the excitement of chasing after a story. More importantly, he is no longer anxious over how people are going to react to something he wrote, nor does he worry about advertisers pulling their ads. He can speak his mind freely.

Last Sunday afternoon, Vu was busy reporting on the Asian and Pacific Islander American Association Votes presidential town hall at University of California, Irvine. After staking out a small corner of the floor of the cavernous venue, he put his head down and started typing.

The Vietnamese community shouldnt be judged by a couple of isolated incidents, said Vu, as if a son defending his fathers honor. In the Internet age, someone else will air dirty laundry in our community if we dont do it ourselves.

Related Articles:

Ethnic Media Practice Serious Journalism at Risk of Peril

New Year, Old Unresolved Passion: Vietnam and its Diaspora

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