Media must have higher standards: Minister

October 26, 2016 | 04:11 pm GMT+7

Truong Minh Tuan, Minister of Information and Communication speaks to the BNEWS of VNA about media workers and their responsibility toward society.


Recently the Viet Nam Standards and Consumers Association – or Vinatas, released a report saying that 67 per cent of 150 inspected fish sauce samples exceeded the limit of one milligram of arsenic per litre. The announcement created a ‘threatening information campaign’. Do you have any comments on this ‘communication incident?’
This communication incident was abnormal and I have followed the incident closely. The term arsenic used in the press communiqué released by Vinatas is murky.
The communiqué said 101 of the 150 fish sauce samples, or 67 per cent, exceeded the limit of one milligram of arsenic per litre as regulated by the Ministry of Health. Some samples exceeded the limit by five times.
However, the communiqué didn’t explain the difference between organic and inorganic arsenic – which one is dangerous or not dangerous.
The communiqué’ even said “Fish sauce products with higher protein content somehow tend to have more arsenic”. That statement implies that traditional Vietnamese fish source is dangerous!
Following the release of the communiqué that claim spread like a wildfire. It is dangerous if we don’t take action immediately to save our traditional fish sauce production.
Arsenic is known as a poison and carcinogen, but the organic form found in seafood is generally believed to be harmless.
In my opinion, Vinastas should make clear the difference between organic and inorganic arsenic present in the fish sauce.
However, reporters writing stories about food safety should read the Ministry of Health’s safety standards. I’m sure if they read the Ministry of Health food safety standards, there wouldn’t have been such “a threatening communication campaign”.
In my opinion, this is an important lesson for the media.
Does that mean you think there were ill intentions in the release of the communiqué’?
Yes, there is a sign of abnormality in the release of the document. The abnormality here is that following the release of the communiqué’ by Vinastas, the document was then reprinted or quoted by many on social networks. The way the story reported was the same, even the headlines. This shows negligence in the work of our reporters and sub-editors.
However, many readers, with their good scientific knowledge, immediately recognised something was wrong with these articles. They immediately thought there must be someone behind the scenes trying to cause damage to our traditional fish sauce for their own benefit.
Of course, people working in the communication management agency have already detected that dark scheme; they can’t draw conclusions based only on their instincts or reasoning, but on evidence through investigation.
Some food safety experts have voiced their opinions in mass media confirming that organic arsenic is not dangerous. Many newspapers and online outlets have come out against the information provided by Vinastas. Don’t you think the wind has changed?
As I have mentioned above, if there had been no negligence or poor scientific knowledge of some in the media or even deliberate distortion of the truth, the inaccurate scientific information wouldn’t have been so widespread across the country.
The feedback from technical people and their analysis in many newspapers and online provided good insight for readers to draw their own conclusions, but we cannot say that right or wrong is as clear as daylight yet.
We’ll wait for functional agencies to make their final decisions and relay them to the public. By then, people’s anxiety about the safety of our fish sauce and traditional fish sauce producers will be gone.
Many people have said social media has become a ‘weapon’ used in the recent ‘war’ between producers of industrial fish sauce and traditional fish sauce. How do you respond to that?
I have heard people saying that. But it is dangerous to come to such conclusions. If both industrial fish sauce and traditional fish sauce meet the requirements for food safety they are ok for consumers.
Enterprises can compete against each other, but competition must be within legal frameworks. We are now living a society ruled by law.
The Ministry of Information and Communication has been working with all information outlets to make the Vietnamese media clean and efficient and ensure Vietnamese media workers are law abiding citizens.