Vietnamese American Television: A Two Pronged Approach
New America Media, Media Profile, Kathie Unthank Posted: May 28, 2008
FALLS CHURCH, Va. – In a tiny office, the executive director of Vietnamese American Television, Nhan Vo, is walking quickly between rooms, preparing for a show.
In the center of the office, Nguyen Dinh Thang is seated at a coffee table piled with Vietnamese American newspapers, the Washington Post, and a dish full of candy. Thang is waiting to sit down in front of a camera and summarize recent events in Congress for Vietnamese American Television.
Vietnamese American Television is one of many shows featured on MHz Networks, a public broadcast station in the Washington, D.C., area. The network has been providing local, ethnic produced programming for more than 15 years.
The show that Vo produces covers news events and issues related to the Vietnamese American community. He explains that a majority of his viewers want to see news that is relevant to their life and culture.
Thang also explains they use a “two-pronged approach,” using both American and Vietnamese news featured in English and Vietnamese. “We provide a forum of community members and inform them of what is going on.”
Vincent Jack, the Local Ethnic Programming Manager for MHz Networks, whose office is also located in Falls Church, Va., explains that a lot of the shows featured on MHz are tailored to new immigrants. The shows begin to educate them on day-to-day issues like voting, local community events and news from their homeland.
Jack oversees all the local programming and serves as a liaison between local producers and the station. He understands that these producers have their own creative vision. However, he helps by giving guidance and making sure they are compliant with all rules and Federal Communications Commission regulations.
However, a majority of these producers have no prior experience, he says.
“They’re just regular citizens with a vision of producing a show for their community,” says Jack. “They have to work full-time, are married, or have kids. They have all these other major priorities and they still get their show done.”
As Vo reaches for the dish on the coffee table, he jokes that this little candy is the reward he receives for his work since Vietnamese American Television is a non-profit organization with a staff composed of a few volunteers.
You have to be a “one-man band” says Vo. Volunteers often find themselves taking on the roles of reporter, anchorperson, writer, cameraperson and editor.
Jack explains how non-professional individuals end up producing their own television shows. Often people will flip through television channels and see international programming and decide that they want to take a chance and do the same thing. Sometimes they see that no show represents their country.
“Here, you can come off the street and give a proposal,” says Jack. “There is no other network where you can come and do that. Other networks only want to work with known producers.”
Jack is continually amazed by the enthusiasm these individuals have. “It takes a special kind of person to go up to somebody and say ‘I’ve got this idea’ and sell their show. It’s definitely a passion with these guys and a commitment,” he says.
Vo and other volunteers also travel around the country training and showing individuals in other Vietnamese communities how to create their own shows. “There is a strong demand to train more people,” says Vo. “Vietnamese Americans want more than one channel when they flip on the television.”
Despite obstacles, Vietnamese American Television still aims to make a quality show. Vo is conscious of remaining neutral and balanced with the reporting. He insists that they’re not trying to be activists. Rather, they are just trying to do their jobs as reporters.
“When we do media, we try to do the right job. That’s how we try to educate people,” says Vo.
Finally, Thang notices that bright lights have been turned on in one of the rooms within the office. He gets up, walks in, and sits down in a small chair against the wall with the lights directly in his face. Vo quickly runs over to shut the door to the room as Thang begins speaking. Today he is analyzing recent legislation regarding Vietnam and human rights.
“We cover something that no major network covers -something they don’t have the time or money to cover,” says Vo.
Ethnic Media Practice Serious Journalism at Risk of Peril
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