Vietnam TV broadcaster drops foreign channels

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HANOI — A Vietnamese satellite television broadcaster said Thursday it had stopped airing foreign channels including CNN, BBC and Star World to comply with a new media law that came into effect this week.

The channels, which already air with a 30-minute delay on live feeds to allow sensitive content to be blocked by government censors, were still widely available elsewhere in Vietnam Thursday, including on state-run giant VTV.

But K+, a joint venture between France’s Canal+ and a local Vietnamese media company, said it had ceased providing 21 foreign channels to subscribers as it was “illegal” to broadcast them after the law came into effect on May 15.

The new regulations originally said foreign channels must provide simultaneous translation of all content into Vietnamese — a move that would likely have proven highly expensive, particularly for breaking news, and forced a number of channels to cease broadcasting.

But vocal opposition from industry groups and foreign governments prompted authorities to revise the new rules in March to require subtitles for films and documentaries only.

While experts say it remains unclear how the new regulations will be enforced, K+ became the first broadcaster to drop its foreign channels.

“K+ is complying with the new regulations of the Ministry of Communications,” a company spokeswoman Mai Nguyen told AFP.

“We just respect the law. We have had some questions from subscribers but we explain we are just following the regulations,” she said, adding the broadcaster would reinstate the foreign channels if they complied with the law.

K+, which launched in January 2010, was the first — and remains the only — foreign company to be allowed to penetrate Vietnam’s tightly-controlled audio-visual market.

It has done well, thanks largely to its exclusive rights to the Spanish and Italian championships and some games from the hugely popular English Premier League.

The company’s subscription costs 250,000 (12 dollars) a month, in a country where per capita income is 1,500 dollars a year. It initially triggered a wave of protest in football-mad Vietnam as fans demanded all matches air for free.

K+’s local partner VTV broadcasts its own channels and is the local agent for multiple foreign channels. It could not immediately be reached for comment.

Experts said that now the government has “softened” the new rules by exempting news content from the translation requirement, they were unlikely to trigger a mass exodus of foreign channels from the Vietnamese market.

“It’s not mission impossible” to comply, said one Vietnamese television executive on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak on behalf of his company.

“It involves cost… but it also makes channels more accessible and in the long term they will benefit from increased visibility,” he added.

Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run.

The country ranks a dismal 172 out of 179 countries on the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

The communist country, a one-party state that forbids political debate, routinely jails or places under house arrest activists and bloggers for publicly expressing dissent and challenging the communist party’s rule.

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