Vietnam News

Hanoi brings back loudspeakers as old-school propaganda methods return to Vietnam

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Speakers to be installed across capital for daily pronouncements as government’s plan labelled ‘archaic and redundant’.

Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi is famous for its noise pollution, with the sound of vehicles driving, horns blasting, construction hammering, hawkers yelling and neighbours singing karaoke combining in a discordant cacophony. But if the city government has its way, there will soon be one more source clamouring for ear space: loudspeakers blaring out state proclamations.

The use of loudspeakers harkens back to cold war-era information sharing and propaganda. They were officially retired by the city’s mayor in 2017, but started creeping back in a limited capacity during Covid-19.

The government has since unveiled plans to roll out loudspeakers for daily announcements starting this year, aiming to cover the entire city by 2025.

Political analyst Carl Thayer called the plan “archaic and redundant” and at odds with the government’s usual “future-orientated” strategy with a “focus on digital technology”.

“The average Vietnamese citizen prizes his/her independence to access news and information independently,” he said, adding the government could easily use a neighbourhood smartphone app instead.

Human rights activist and Hanoi resident Nguyen Quang A said noise pollution in the city was already a “big problem” and reintroducing loudspeakers into the mix was likely to be “very annoying” and even “torturing”.

Another Hanoi resident, a local journalist, was even more blunt. “I’d say most people, myself included, think this is a stupid idea,” he said, asking to remain anonymous. “The loudspeakers were an integral part of life during the war time, when it warned people of incoming bombers and gave updates on the frontline. Now it is at best a white noise machine, at worse a nuisance.”

Nguyen Quang A said some local people were likely to be “frustrated” but couldn’t do anything about it except complain on social media, while others would support it simply because they supported the ruling Communist party.

He called the decision “whimsical” and said it would probably only benefit “a few local officials” who desired the power, money and prestige that came with being in charge of a project.

The other Hanoi resident similarly said he was “baffled” by the decision, pointing to a recent poll indicating 70% of the city population was against it. “I can only guess that maybe whoever is pushing for this policy also owns a loudspeaker company,” he quipped.

Thayer noted it was a Hanoi program meant to “empower local leaders at ward level” and promote local initiatives, and that there was no indication loudspeakers would be installed nationwide.

Thayer also cautioned that the initiative was unrelated to “regime insecurity” or the ongoing crackdown on free speech. “There is scant evidence that the legitimacy of the current regime is losing widespread public support that can be remedied by the reintroduction of loud speakers on the streets of Hanoi.”

Low-tech propaganda

On the other side of South-east Asia in Myanmar, the new junta is also turning to old-school methods of propaganda. The country’s military became infamous for its use of social media to spread hate speech and disinformation during the Rohingya crisis, but it is now relying on more low-tech methods in conflict zones, where it has restricted the internet for many months.

In the Sagaing region, where armed resistance to the 2021 coup has been particularly fierce, military planes and helicopters have airdropped pamphlets, blaming ongoing instability on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and ethnic-minority armed groups.

Wai Phyo Myint of digital rights group Access Now said this type of heavy-handed propaganda was no longer effective. “Our different sources in Sagaing haven’t seen that in a few months,” she said, explaining that any material known to come from the military was discarded because people “don’t trust the source”.

“What we are more concerned about is more sophisticated propaganda that obscures the source,” she said, adding that in internet blackout zones, this could be achieved through word-of-mouth networks.

This would be particularly hard to counter because people couldn’t easily use the internet to verify news, she said.

Albert, a battalion commander for the anti-coup Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF), confirmed this was already happening in Kayah state, another resistance stronghold.

He said the junta had hijacked the distribution of international humanitarian aid to displaced civilians, allowing regime officials under the guise of charity workers to slander the KNDF.

“As a result, some villagers have gone back and take the support and start to believe what the regime says,” Albert said. In areas where support for the KNDF remained strong, the regime withheld aid, he said.

The junta tried to convince people that “all suffering is because of KNDF” and some people had “started to believe it and show hatred to us”, he said. “It is difficult.”

By Andrew Nachemson – The guardian – August 15, 2022

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