Tu Viện Quảng Đức105 Lynch Rd, Fawkner, Vic 3060. Australia. Tel: 9357 3544. quangduc@quangduc.com* Viện Chủ: HT Tâm Phương, Trụ Trì: TT Nguyên Tạng   

40th Anniversary of Vietnamese Settlement Vietnamese Language Media in Australia

10/03/201606:47(Xem: 7964)
40th Anniversary of Vietnamese Settlement Vietnamese Language Media in Australia
Luu Tuong Quang va truyen thong dai chung Uc Chau (9)
    40th Anniversary of Vietnamese Settlement
    Vietnamese Language Media in Australia
             * Luu Tuong Quang


A. Introduction


It is generally accepted that the Vietnamese print media started in 1979 in Australia when the first issue of the Bell of Saigon / Chuông Saigon was on sale in Sydney. Initially, it was published fortnightly then became a weekly.


Over the past four decades, the media in Vietnamese have gone through a developmental pattern which is not dissimilar to those in other culturally and linguistically diverse communities (CALD) in that it has grown in number and strength along with the Vietnamese speaking community.


The Vietnamese media however, possesses certain traits setting them apart from their Vietnamese counterpart in the USA and from other ethnic media in Australia.


This paper attempts to examine the Vietnamese media in Australia in terms of their dual role to inform and to entertain the Vietnamese speaking community. In providing information and entertainment, the print and electronic media in Vietnamese have also contributed towards linguistic and cultural maintenance, but their role in community education has never been claimed formally.


That Vietnamese newspapers have gone thus far against all odds in terms of technical difficulties, journalistic skills and financial constraints is quite an achievement. In many ways, their story reflects the story of the Vietnamese 40-year settlement in this country. Today’s success, however, is not a guarantee against tomorrow’s challenges as the Vietnamese speaking demographics are changing in Australia and alternative news and entertainment products are readily available on the Internet and via social media.


In electronic media, some surviving privately-run outlets remain underdeveloped while many have come and gone, failing to make any impact. Facing high costs of production, complex professional standards and technical facilities for what is still a relatively small market, Vietnamese electronic media have not been able to compete. SBS Radio, a publicly funded and uniquely Australian national multilingual and multicultural broadcaster is far better equipped to provide information on a daily basis. The influx of Vietnamese videos made in the US, soapy serials from Hong Kong and South Korea with Vietnamese re-narration and various state-sanctioned products from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) make it very difficult for the local media to maintain let alone to increase its share of the entertainment market.  Social media such as Youtubes, Facebook and Twitter attract young audience away from the traditional media because they can satisfy their needs any time and anywhere.


B. Developmental Journey and Some Peculiar Characteristics


Before the Fall of Saigon on 30th April 1975, there hardly existed a Vietnamese community in Australia. Apart from a small number of adopted children and spouses of returned servicemen, very few Vietnamese lived in the community amongst ordinary Australians. The most homogeneous group of pre-1975 Vietnamese temporary residents mainly consisted of government-sponsored students under the Colombo Plan who first arrived in the late 1950s, other Government officials under short-term training and private students from the end of 1960s onwards. For their social communication, an occasional newsletter and a special magazine to mark the Vietnamese New Year, Tết, were quite sufficient. These irregular publications were home-made and produced by roneo from stencils by members of the Vietnamese Overseas Students’ Associations (VOSA) for their membership.


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From left: Lưu Dân and Vũ Nhuận (Chuông Saigon Weekly), Lưu Tường Quang, NSW State Director of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs and Victor Boulos, Manager (Ethnic Affairs) of the State Office, Sydney – at The Bell of Saigon Office in 1987


For a few years after 1975, communication by way of newsletters continued but was quickly proved unsuitable because the community mix changed with the arrivals of refugees and an internal division amongst former South Vietnamese student groups vis-à-vis the new powers in Vietnam.


At Census 1976, there were 2 427 residents of Vietnamese background and this number increased almost 17 times to 41 096 at census 1981 thanks to the Fraser Government’s new policy on Indochinese refugees. At Census 2011, there were 233 390 Vietnamese speakers, one of the six largest CALD communities in Australia.


The Bell of Saigon was the vision and brain child of one person – the late Mr. Chu Văn Hợp, who first set foot in PerthWestern Australia. For this American-educated engineer and former Saigon-based Shell executive, Australia was not only a nation where people live in freedom and democracy, it was also a land of opportunity which he intended to pursue.


In search of business opportunities, Chu Văn Hợp organized a bus trip for himself, his family and a dozen other newly-arrived boat people through the Nallabor to Sydney where he and I met.


Canberra was then my city of residence. In my capacity as the first national president of the Vietnamese Community in Australia (1977-1982), I often drove to Sydney to see fellow refugees such as Chu Văn Hợp, the late Professor Nguyễn Hoàng Cương and the late Mr. Nguyễn Anh Tuấn, an Adelaide University graduate and a former Saigon-based engineer for Air Vietnam, who was President of the Vietnamese Community in NSW. Nguyễn Anh Tuấn is remembered as publisher of the first Vietnamese magazine, Quê Mẹ (Motherland) in partnership with another refugee, Mr. Nguyễn Văn Chánh.


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From left: Lê Văn Công, Gia Du, Lưu Tường Quang,  Nhất Giang and Nguyễn Vy Túy in front of the Commonwealth Offices, Sydney 1988


We also met in Canberra occasionally, but while in Sydney we saw one another at Lan Saigon Restaurant on Pitt Street in the Sydney CBD or at a bookshop nearby which was managed by the late Mr. Trần Phước Hậu, a former captain of Sông Bé 12, a fishing boat owned by the newly established SRV. From Vũng Tàu, a coastal city familiar to servicemen and women of the ANZAC-Vietnam, he sailed south through some of the Indonesian islands and straight toward northern Australia to arrive in Darwin on 29 November 1977.


Like Chu Văn Hợp, Trần Phước Hậu also had an eye on business and he detected a real need of reading material for newly-arrived Vietnamese. He imported Vietnamese books and Vietnamese-English and English-Vietnamese dictionaries which had been published in Saigon and re-printed in California for sale in the emerging market of Sydney. Dictionaries were indeed popular, but Chu Văn Hợp believed the need for information was more acute than cultural maintenance. He wanted to publish a newspaper.


Chu Văn Hợp consulted with me and other friends to ensure that what he visualized would resonate with potential readers who were in urgent need of information and cultural and social readjustment. The title ‘Bell of Saigon / Chuông Saigon’ was finally chosen to indicate the newspaper’s non-communist stand as the name of the capital of undivided Vietnam since 1949 and of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975 would send a clear message. Chu Văn Hợp also hoped to provide a forum for the voiceless refugees whose memory of persecution and poverty under the SRV and the horror of their escape remained fresh and emotionally raw. Right from the start, he was careful enough to feature certain community figures whose anti-communist views could not be questioned.


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                                       From left: Ngọc Hân, Lưu Tường Quang and Nguyễn Vy Túy - Sydney 13.07.1990


Mr. Nguyễn Vy Túy, a member of the 1979 editorial team, believes that this title might also be chosen to assert the paper’s stand in freedom of faith, because chuông / the bell is a common religious instrument for the Vietnamese Christian and Buddhist churches which were subject to harsh treatment after 1975 by the new communist authorities.


As a business venture, the Bell of Saigon was not successful, as it did not last long enough with any management team. Its significance however lies in the fact that it was ground-breaking and was indeed an incubator for future development of the Vietnamese newspapers.


Nguyễn Vy Túy recalls: “None of us had any training in journalism or media production. The first team consisted of Mr. Chu Văn Hợp as editor, Mr. Đỗ Lê Viên as chief of staff and myself as technical producer and we were equal in our ignorance. But Chu Văn Hợp was clever in his decision to rent a room at Seddon StreetBankstown NSW where other more established ethnic papers were located. We often talked with our unsuspected colleagues to learn their technique on the spot and at times we stayed back ‘to spy’ on their work”.


Very few among the early group of Vietnamese refugees could claim any professional experience or knowledge in the media before their arrival in Australia. Among those who could, Mr. Nguyễn Ngọc Phách, who had been a print journalist in Saigon and a broadcaster with the BBC Vietnamese Service in London, joined Radio Australia shortly after his resettlement in Victoria and later wrote for the Melbourne-based TiVi Tuần San. The other was Mr. Nhất Giang, a former staff writer for the Saigon-based Tiền Tuyến Daily (Frontline) who set up the Sydney-based Chiêu Dương (The Sunrise Newspaper), after a short stint as business manager for The Bell of Saigon.


The rank of media professionals did not increase until Mr. Phan Quân, a veteran of Saigon’s highly competitive media market, resumed his craft and the arrivals of Mr. Phan Lạc Phúc aka Ký giả Lô-Răng and Mr. Nguyễn Văn Thân aka Hồ Ông in the early 1990s. Phan Lạc Phúc, an American-trained public information officer in the late 1950s, was a long-serving editor of Tiền Tuyến Daily. In Sydney, he wrote as a columnist for Chiêu Dương from 1991 to 2002 then for Việt Luận (The Vietnamese Herald) from 2002 to 2005 when he retired. Nguyễn Văn Thân, a satirist for Saigon-based Con Ong (The Bee), joined Dân Việt Weekly (The Vietnamese Tribune) on his arrival from Thailand in mid 1990s, then moved to Văn Nghệ Weekly in 2003.


The electronic media did not open up any opportunities for former Vietnamese radio and television broadcasters until the early 1990s when SBS Radio underwent its major reform of its broadcasting workforce and air time rescheduling: Ms. Nguyễn Bạch Tuyết aka Ngọc Hân, Messrs. Vũ Nhuận, Nguyễn Đình Khánh and Trần Hữu Trung in Sydney, and Ms. Lữ Hồng Phượng aka Phượng Hoàng in Melbourne, joined this national network to resume their broadcasting career.


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     Voices of Freedom - From Left: Lưu Dân, Khánh An, Ngọc Hân, The Hon. Ann Symonds, MLC, and Lưu Tường Quang, Sydney 20.10.1990


All in all, the Vietnamese media in Australia was managed mainly and successfully by entrepreneurial refugees without prior experience in the field in stark contrast to their counterpart in the USA, where the Vietnamese community is ten times more numerous, and probably also to other CALD communities in Australia such as the Chinese and the Italians who are much larger in numbers than the Vietnamese. Sing Tao Daily (Sydney, 1984) and The Australian Chinese Daily (Sydney, 1987) drew their professional staff not only locally but also from a much bigger media pool in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Italian Il Globo (Melbourne, 1959) and its sister publication, the Sydney-based La Fiamma, were run by print media professionals.


In the early 1980s, as the Vietnamese community doubled its size again within 5 years (83 028 persons at Census 1986), a number of new titles appeared, such as Chiêu Dương and Việt Luận in Sydney and Nhân Quyền (Human Rights Weekly) and TiVi Tuần San in Melbourne.  


Perhaps Chiêu Dương, published by Mr Nhất Giang initially in Perth in 1980, is the most commercially successful Vietnamese newspaper. It was relocated to Sydney as a weekly before becoming the only daily in the Vietnamese market from 1985. In 1993, Chiêu Dương won a National Australia Bank Ethnic Business Award and remains the only Vietnamese media to have been so recognized. Currently, it is run by David Giang, the owner’s son, as managing editor.


Việt Luận was set up in 1983 by Đỗ Lê Viên aka Nguyễn Chánh Sĩ, a former staffer of The Bell of Saigon, as editor but he left this weekly in 1984 to re-qualify himself for his career in the legal profession. In the same year, Mr. Hồ Công Lộ aka Long Quân, another former legal practitioner, tried his hand with Nhân Quyền Weekly where he remains its longest serving publisher and editor until the present time.


TiVi Tuần San is another example of rags to riches. Set up by a team of husband and wife in November 1985 (with the first issue dated 17 January 1986) and initially produced in the back room of a modest house in North RichmondVictoria. Mr. Nguyễn Hồng Anh,  editor, and his wife, Mrs. Vũ Thị Hà, Secretary, were able to capture a good part of the Melbourne market. According to a survey research conducted by Multicultural Perspective Pty.Ltd. and commissioned by the ATO in 2005, Nhân Quyền and TiVi Tuần San are the most popular with Vietnamese readers in Victoria.


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     Mr. Nguyễn Hồng Anh welcomes the Hon. John Howard to the TiVi Tuần San Office Melbourne, 14 Dec 1995 (Photo: TiVi Tuần San, 20.12.1995)


Among the surviving titles, Dân Việt was born in 1993 with the outgoing editorial team of Việt Luận when this weekly was sold to a new management. Mr. Bùi Kế Giản aka Gia Du continued as editor of Dân Việt for 10 years when he was succeeded by Mr. Nguyễn Văn Sơn aka Lưu Dân in 2003 for 6 years to 2009.


In 1995, Saigon Times hit the news stand in Sydney initially as a magazine then as a weekly edited by Mr. Nguyễn Hữu Chí aka Hữu Nguyên, a former staffer of Chiêu Dương. Hữu Nguyên has a different background from all other editors and writers of the Vietnamese newspapers in that before 1975, by his own account, he was with the communist army infiltrating to the South where he subsequently became a returnee (i.e. under the South Vietnamese Chiêu Hồi program which encouraged defection from the North Vietnamese side). Saigon Times could not last long in the small and crowded market of Sydney and ceased to be published as a print media in the 2010s.


The newest weekly is Văn Nghệ (Sydney, 2003) with Nguyễn Vy Túy, another former staffer and editor of The Bell of Saigon, as publisher and editor, and Nhất Giang as business manager to ensure its financial success, as Văn Nghệ was and remains indeed a sister weekly of the Chiêu Dương Daily. An informal audit of circulation in 2015 indicates that Văn Nghệ has become the best seller weekly amongst the Vietnamese language print media.


The 1990s saw most financially ill-fated outlets come and go, including Saigon News, Việt Nam Thời Nay, Tiếng Nói Người Việt, Người Việt, Đại Việt and Vietnews Tiếng Nói Cộng Đồng. The last two were managed respectively in mid 1990s by a former Fairfield City councilor, Mr. Nguyễn Thế Nghiệp, and in 1999 by the Vietnamese Community in Victoria.  It seems that a newspaper pursuing an individual’s agenda or serving as an organization’s voice may have faced additional difficulties in terms of peers’ hostility and competition for readership and advertising.


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From left: Maribyrnong Commisioner Trần Đức Dũng, Professor Trang Thomas, AM, Mr. Lưu Tường Quang, and Mr. Nguyễn Ngọc Phách at the office of TiVi Tuần San, Melbourne, 14 Dec 1995 (Photo: TiVi Tuần San, 20.12.1995)


Among the most financially successful ones are those run as a family business, such as Chiêu Dương, Văn Nghệ, TiVi Tuần San and Nhân Quyền. Việt Luận and Dân Việt are the exception, because they are owned by a group of shareholders. In this regard, the Vietnamese newspapers are more similar to those in smaller CALD communities than the big ones such as in the Chinese market where most major papers are dailies with big business investments.


Most Vietnamese outlets adopt a simple business model and the most successful ones are supported by government advertising, often through an agency such as Leba Ethnic Media. Currently, TiVi Tuần San is the only one extending its business to book selling mainly in the Vietnamese language sourced from the USA and Vietnam. In the early 1980s, Trần Phước Hậu attempted to extend his newspaper to printing business when he assumed the management of Việt Luận in 1984 along the line of Media Press Pty. Ltd. which was owned by the Lebanese El-Telegraph Tri-Weekly (Sydney, 1970) and where many Vietnamese newspapers were once printed. The experiment failed to meet his expectation and Trần Phước Hậu returned to his interest in book selling.


All nationally circulated Vietnamese outlets are located in Sydney and Melbourne, as the spatial distribution of Vietnamese Australians mirrors that of other CALD communities. The two metropolitan cities share 75% of Vietnamese settlers leaving the remaining 25% for the rest of AustraliaAdelaide and Brisbane can support local papers only. Perth which has the same number of Vietnamese residents of around 13 000, as does the capital city of South Australia, has never had a newspaper and its only monthly magazine, Phổ Thông, lasted for 6 years from 1993.


Among all publications in Vietnamese, magazines fared worst, perhaps because they could not attract sufficient advertising due to low circulation, with the exception of colourfully printed special magazines called Giai Phẩm Xuân or simply Báo Xuân. These are part of the media tradition of pre-1975 Saigon, and normally published once towards the end of the year by most Vietnamese tabloids to celebrate the incoming Tết which follows the Australian Festive Season. The other exception is where a magazine is supported by a particular industry sector, such as the Sydney-based Medicine & Modern Life Bi-monthly (Lưỡng Nguyệt San Y Học & Đời Sống) published by Dr. Liêu Vĩnh Bình since 1999 and circulated throughout Australia and in a dozen of other countries.


It is not coincidental that the first copy of The Bell of Saigon was for sale and was not distributed free at Asian groceries like its counterparts in the US.


One of the benefits of living in suburban Australia is that residents are not only able to receive free but also home-delivered copies of local and regional newspapers in English. The modestly rolled up copy thrown onto a resident’s front yard is in fact big business owned by reputable media corporations and contains a wealth of information, if one is interested in local news and activities and does not mind occasional odd statements from publicity-seeking local councilors or state and federal politicians in the area.


But for some exceptions, residents of Vietnamese background who enjoy this free supply of suburban newspapers, somehow do not like or trust a free Vietnamese newspaper. Various attempts to set up free Vietnamese outlets have failed, at least until recent years,  in Sydney and Melbourne.


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                                                                 Trần Châu and Lưu Tường Quang - Brisbane 20.05.2000


The exception is in Adelaide where Nam Úc Tuần Báo (South Australia News Weekly, 1995) and its younger rival, Adelaide Tuần Báo (Adelaide News Weekly, 2001) have passed their test of time and are still going strong with a reported weekly circulation of around 3 000 copies each, or roughly a readership of 1 in 4 Vietnamese residents who are also well served by nationally circulated titles from Sydney and Melbourne.


In Brisbane, a team of young entrepreneurs were trying to emulate the Adelaide experiment, and their SS Vietnamese Weekly (Bầu Trời Phương Nam – Southern Sky) has survived its first decade. This free outlet was not initially in competition as a result of the demise in 2008 of Người Việt and before the appearance of another free weekly, the APN News some five years later. Both are in fierce competition in the rather small local market with a claimed circulation anywhere between 3 000 to 6 000.


Người Việt was set up in Brisbane by Mr. Trần Châu as a fortnightly magazine in 1997 before becoming a tabloid in 2006 and run by Mr. Đỗ Trung Hiếu for 2 years before its demise.


Unlike their compatriots in the US, it seems that Vietnamese print consumers value a product when they pay for it in Australia. In Brisbane and Adelaide, they pick up a free copy in addition to their paid weekly brought in from Sydney and Melbourne, the two major centres of the Vietnamese print media. This is in line with the pre-1975 paying habit as South Vietnam had only newspapers for sale and not for free distribution.


The first in-road of a free weekly is a new phenomenon in Melbourne when a former collaborator of Long Quân’s Nhân Quyền Weekly set up Viet News a few years ago as an advertising outlet for the housing market in direct competition with his former outfit. Long Quân was unhappy but not unduly concerned, dismissing this disloyalty as a “fact of life”. In 2015, Viet News launched its Sydney publication also on the same basis that proved to be successful in Melbourne i.e. housing market advertising. While the free Viet News did not appear to have adversely affected the ‘selling’ weeklies in Melbourne - particularly Nhân Quyền Weekly – it seems to have weakened the revenue stream of Sydney-based Dân Việt Weekly.


The newest addition in 2015 was Tự Do Thời Báo (The Liberty Times) which is published twice weekly and directly linked to Sydney-based Saigon Broadcasting Television Network (SBTN). Initially circulated as a free weekly, Tự Do Thời Báo - editorially assisted by Gia Du, an old hand in the Vietnamese print media with Phạm Khiêm aka Mộc Văn, an ex BBC broadcaster, in charge of Australian news and current affairs - is now on sale at a discount price. This outlet, conceived as part of a multi-media company, is still at the time of writing, in search for its place in the crowded print media market for Vietnamese readers.

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Prime Ministerial launch of SBS Radio Online, Sydney 26.10.2001 – From left: Head of SBS Radio Lưu Tường Quang, Editor of Saigon Times Hữu Nguyên, the Hon John Howard, MP, Head of Vietnamese Group Ngọc Hân and Editor of Dân Việt Gia Du


In terms of format, broadsheet, once preferred by Vietnamese readers in pre-1975 Vietnam, was not popular in Australia. One or two isolated attempts to revive a good tradition in old Saigon never took off the ground here.


Since the days of The Bell of Saigon, almost all Vietnamese newspapers are tabloids without any discussion or concern among editors and readers. This was a significant matter in the mainstream media where executives of Fairfax media for example, used to be agonized over the downsizing of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Melbourne Age for fear of losing the advantage of their perceived ‘quality’ paper status, even though one of the world’s best media institutions, The Times of London, appeared to have successfully made its own transition. Among other ethnic media, the four main Chinese dailies continue as broadsheets while El-Telegraph went the other way from its initial tabloid into its larger format.


On the other hand, while it cannot be categorised as a Melbourne idiosyncrasy, only TiVi Tuần San and its younger rival, TiVi Victoria, have survived in their original A4 format for a Vietnamese weekly. The fact that TiVi Tuần San was intended initially as an outlet for Vietnamese viewers of Australian Television programs before it became a full fledged newspaper may explain this exception to the more popular tabloid size.


For electronic media, there is no privately-run radio station in Vietnamese other than Radio 2VNR which was set up in Sydney by Mr. Donald Nguyễn Thu aka Hoàng Nam and his wife, singer Mẫu Đơn in 1998. This 24-hour single language narrowcaster has since been expanded to all other capital cities, except Hobart and Darwin, thanks to its aggressive subscription drive and low-cost business model of re-broadcasting international programs from the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA), British Broadcasting Corporation World Service (BBC) and Radio France Internationale (RFI), and Vietnamese music. Hoàng Nam says he has no plan to make Radio 2VNR a 24/7 broadcaster in Vietnamese because of prohibitive costs.


For listeners in South Western Sydney, Đoàn Kim and Bảo Khánh’s Vietnam Sydney Radio has proved its resilience. Weekly Vietnamese programs can also be heard on community radio stations in most capital cities, such as Radio 4EB in Brisbane and similar stations in other capital cities. The former has been more involved in community life since its early years with Mr. Joe Chương as co-ordinator, then with Dr. Nguyễn Văn Hoàng and Mr. Trần Hưng Việt. Many others, including Hồn Việt Radio, have come and gone.


In Television, community stations such as Channel 31 remain the weakest link of Australia’s electronic media landscape. Intermittent attempts to set up a Vietnamese TV program in Sydney failed on Channel 31 and its successor. Vietnam Television (VNTV) has survived with its weekly program on Channel 31 Victoria, thanks to the efforts of a Melbourne-based team of young contributors led by Dr. Kiều Tiến Dũng. That this program has remained on air since 1996 is amazing, as this team has only their dedication and advocacy to compensate for their lack of financial backing and professional skills in TV programming.


Referring to his team’s deliberations leading to the formation of VNTV, Kiều Tiến Dũng speaks of the special political and cultural needs of the community: “At that time [1996] we only had a few weekly or monthly papers and there was a national radio program by the government-funded SBS apart from some local radio broadcasts, but there was no TV program at all. We recognized that a Vietnamese TV program would be of great interest to the community [in Victoria] in that it would provide among other things some entertainment and would add to the information distribution and communication within our community, which had their unique political and cultural needs. Such a program would also be a contribution by the Vietnamese community to the wider ethnic media.”

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SBS Radio Vietnamese Team – Sydney 2003: From left: Sơn Lâm, Thái Hòa, Ngọc Hân (Head of Group), Vũ Nhuận and Phan Bách (Photo: SBS Radio)


The electronic media landscape in the Vietnamese language has changed during the last three years when VietFace TV began its 24/7 broadcasts as an Australian-based national Television station from Sydney. Also based in Sydney is Saigon Broadcasting and Television Network-Australia (SBTN-A) which has close link with the US-based SBTN.


Both networks are run commercially and still in need of improving their respective financial streams in advertising and sponsorship. SBTN-A, however, faces an additional hurdle because of its limited air time. Most of its locally produced programs can only reach SBTN-A audience by way of Youtubes. At the time of writing, Mr. Nguyễn Trọng Hiếu, head of SBTN-A, was still negotiating with his partners and potential partners for a business model which he hopes would ensure its long-term existence.


For VietFace TV Australia, headed by Ms. Nguyễn Kim Hoàng, a young business woman and her husband as Technical Director,  the challenge is to fill its 24/7 air time capacity by satellite covering Australia and New Zealand, with good locally produced programs and other contents bought from overseas sources. For a rather small market of Vietnamese speaking audience, distribution costs and local program productions remain a major concern for the network.


C. Roles and Contents: Information and Entertainment


Information and entertainment are always the two major media drivers and the Vietnamese media is not an exception. As the community was growing through different phases of development, their needs for information and entertainment have also changed.


The Australian Census of 1971 did not record any Vietnamese settlers in this country. But within 5 years between Census 1976 and 1981, the Vietnamese community jumped almost 17 times larger from 2 427 persons, thanks to the late Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his Coalition Government. Yet until the appearance of other newspapers from 1983 onwards, information was only provided by the fortnightly Bell of Saigon and some irregular weekly broadcasts in Vietnamese on Radio 2EA in Sydney and Radio 3EA in Melbourne (which would later become part of SBS Radio).


Generally, how should newly arrived refugees, from a developing country to a much more modern and urban environment in Australia, learn to be part of it?      


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                                                             Nguyễn Hoàng Cương’s Con Người từ ViệtnamSydney 1979

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Mr. Nguyễn Hoàng Cương was a professorial fellow at the University of Dalat, some 300 kilometers north of Saigon, before April 1975. His book, Con Người từ Việtnam (The People from Vietnam) which was part written while he and his family were sheltered at a refugee camp in Malaysia in 1977, became the first book in Vietnamese written by a Vietnamese author and published in Australia in 1979. In his advice to fellow Vietnamese in a rule-based new society like Australia, he had this to say: “You should ask for help from those who came before you on matters of daily life, such as road rules, labour practices and social welfare. You should try to understand some cultural aspects of your new community to avoid any conflict with your new neighbours. If you ever find yourself in breach of any laws and regulations, you should seek advice from a legal service or your legal counsel” (Page 63). 


For Nguyễn Vy Túy, the mere physical contact with a newspaper in Vietnamese was an experience with raw emotion. “If we look back to 1979”, he recalls the year when he, his family and some other 100 exhausted refugees landed in Darwin after 23 days floating at sea, “ I could not hold back tears upon receiving two copies of The Bell of Saigon from a Canberra-based Vietnamese staffer of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I could not believe that there was a Vietnamese newspaper in Australia”. He then put on paper his emotion and living experiences in desperation of his companions during their sea voyage in the middle of nowhere aboard a leaking wooden boat. They risked their lives not only because of uncontrollable elements but also because of repeated attacks by Thai pirates until a British merchant ship spotted their boat, rescued them and brought them to Darwin. Nguyễn Vy Túy’s first story “From Hell to Paradise” found its way to The Bell of Saigon in Sydney where he came to settle and became one of its staffers.

Until SBS Radio went through its major reform in terms of air-time reschedule and professionalism of its broadcasters and journalists in early 1990’s, the Vietnamese print media was by default in monopoly to meet information needs of increasing newly arrived Vietnamese refugees.


The profiles of Vietnamese boat people varied between April 1975 and 1996, even though their main strait remained constant i.e. being victims or potential victims of persecution as defined by the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the UN 1967 Protocol.


Five years after the Fall of Saigon, the nature of this exodus already became the subject of debate as to whether Vietnamese asylum seekers were refugees or economic migrants. Responding to this debate and arguing for the continuation of the Fraser Government’s policy, I sent a submission for and on behalf of the Vietnamese Community in Australia in my capacity as its National President. This submission, which was dated Canberra, 28th October 1981, co-signed with Nguyễn Hoàng Cương and entitled “Vietnamese Asylum Seekers: Refugees or Economic Migrants”, received some media attention (The Age, 03.11.1981). We expressed our hope “to bring out the causes of this (Vietnam) tragedy for the consideration of the Federal Government of Australia, the Federal Parliamentary Opposition (The Australian Labor Party) other honourable Senators and Members of the House and all representatives’ groups, when Australia’s refugee policy is reportedly under review”.


Luu Tuong Quang va truyen thong dai chung Uc Chau (12)

SBS Radio Vietnamese Team 2003 – Melbourne – Clockwise: Hoàng Thọ, Thanh Vy, Trần Việt,  Phượng Hoàng and Trần Như Hùng aka Quốc Việt, Head of Group. (Photo: SBS Radio)


As part of our case, we identified the three stages of the exodus from 1975. “Prior to 1978 i.e. pre (Communist) collectivisation and nationalisation period, most escapees were ethnic Vietnamese including about 130 000 who left South Vietnam immediately after the Fall of Saigon. The period of 1978-79, which saw the exodus reach a crisis proportion, coincided with the (Communist) nationalisation campaign against the private sector in South Vietnam. Vietnamese of ethnic Chinese background left Vietnam en masse whether with semi-official sanction or because of expulsion. Ethnic Vietnamese continued to escape in those years, but their presence received less attention than that of ethnic Chinese. Toward the end of 1979, the presence of ethnic Vietnamese became again gradually more noticeable, owing to the reduced numbers of ethnic Chinese whose semi-official departures were curtailed apparently as a result of the United Nations Conference at Geneva in July 1979”.


Ngoc Han va truyen thong tai UC (18)Ngoc Han va truyen thong tai UC (19)

SBS Radio Vietnamese Team – Sydney at Quang Duc Monastery, Fawkner, Victoria 12 Oct 2003:
From left: Vũ Nhuận, Ngọc Hân, Venerable Thích Nguyên Tạng (Photo: quangduc.com)

We sought to establish that “Vietnamese, individually or as members of a class, escape because of fear and persecution. In doing so, they may also be seen as fleeing from economic hardship which does unfortunately exist in post 1975-Vietnam”.


Some academic writings tend to categorise the exodus from Vietnam as that of the “elite groups” initially followed by others such as small traders, urban and rural workers as “economic refugees”. While I would not agree with this categorisation on the basis of social and economic classes, I do know (as a former senior executive of the Department of Immigration in Canberra, and its NSW State Director in Sydney) refugees and migrants without a certain degree of English fluency and recognizable qualifications required longer and more support during their resettlement process.


Indeed as Head of SBS Radio, I initiated a major reform of SBS Radio air time allocation in the early 1990 not only to truly reflect Australia’s multicultural demographics but also to cater for their particular needs for successful integration. Based on data of 1991 Census, five criteria were adopted (namely the size of community language speakers, proportions of the aged 55 and over, of recent arrivals, of limited English skills and rate of unemployment) leading to massive changes of the SBS Radio schedules. As a result, the Vietnamese language group became one of the biggest amongst the 68 (currently 74) broadcast by the network. Until recently, SBS Radio broadcast a 60-minute program twice daily in Sydney and Melbourne and once in other capital cities. Through a parallel professional reform in 1992, two new teams of Vietnamese broadcasters and journalists came in: one in Sydney headed by Ms. Ngọc Hân and the other in Melbourne, by Mr. Quốc Việt, to meet the communication needs of Vietnamese Australians. 


At SBS Radio, the Vietnamese language program was and remains mandated by the SBS Charter (the Commonwealth SBS Act, 1991) to inform, educate and entertain Australians in their preferred language. Privately-owned Vietnamese media have no such legal requirements, but to survive, they have to provide information and entertainment to their readers and their audience. The de facto monopoly which they enjoyed ceased in early 1990s when SBS Radio gradually became the major source of news for most Vietnamese Australians.


In fact for the best part of 40 years of Vietnamese settlement, SBS Radio has been the dominant information provider, as confirmed by Vietnamese audience surveys commissioned by SBS Radio (Quadrant Research, Ingenuity Research – and separately Multicultural Perspective Pty Ltd by the ATO between 1999 to 2006). Out of the 89% of Vietnamese speakers who experienced an SBS Radio program, over 60% tuned in regularly. Good credits should go to the two Vietnamese teams and their head of group / Executive Producer for their ability to maintain the Vietnamese language program in the highest rating position of SBS Radio for a long time. Ms. Nguyễn Bạch Tuyết aka Ngọc Hân was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in June 2007 for her service to the Vietnamese Australian community. They have left a highly appreciated and most popular Vietnamese program to their succeeding team currently headed by Mr. Hoàng Quốc Vinh and his young and IT literate broadcasters such as Tú Trinh.


Good credits should also be shared amongst editors and writers of privately-owned media in the Vietnamese language.


My survey with a dozen of editors and former editors and writers indicates clearly that most outlets in the Vietnamese media consider their information role as essential for the Vietnamese Australian community.


Luu Tuong Quang va truyen thong dai chung Uc Chau (13)

From left: David Giang, Lưu Tường Quang, the Hon. Philip Ruddock, MP, Attorney-General and Ven. Thích Phước Đạt, Sydney 2005


In early 1980s, Mr. Trương Minh Hoàng, aka Nguyễn Thành Danh, a former South Vietnamese magistrate and one time editor of Việt Luận, devoted his limited resource in search for up to date and relevant information for its readers. In those years, newly arrived Vietnamese were keen to know of boat people’s movements in South East Asia, news from UNHCR camps and resettlement policies by third countries such as Australia, the USACanada and Western Europe. Information for resettlement was always sought and the Vietnamese media played a dual role as learner and provider so much so that its entertainment role became at least initially secondary.

Lưu Dân, who first settled in Adelaide in 1984 from a refugee camp in Indonesia, then re-located in Sydney to try his hand in the Vietnamese media as a news writer and columnist for Việt Luận, then its publisher. Later he moved to Dân Việt in 1993 also as publisher and became its editor from 2003 to 2009.

   In terms of the media responses to information needs, Lưu Dân saw the Vietnamese arrivals in two parts: some 15 years prior to the Second Geneva Conference on the Indochinese Refugees in 1989 when the Comprehensive Plan of Action (the CPA) was adopted. In this period, the newly arrived relied on the Vietnamese print media as their lifeline for basic information. These were the three tasks he pursued: (a) contribution towards their settlement in Australia, (b) advocacy for continued acceptance of refugees from camps in South East Asia and Hong Kong, and (c) support for democracy in Vietnam.

In the second period which took in the 1990s and beyond, the Vietnamese readers became more settled and tended to see the Vietnamese media as a bridge to the main stream and also as a source of entertainment, Lưu Dân set for himself and his paper the following tasks: (a) provision of guidance for integration into the broader community, fighting for equal opportunity and against racism, (b) celebration of diversity in business and in political integration, and (c) advocacy for human rights and democracy in Vietnam.

Advocacy for freedom and democracy in Vietnam has been and is still generally shared by the Vietnamese media. Some strongly believe in their active role in terms of guiding or shaping the community opinion on political issues relating to the SRV.  For Phan Lạc Phúc, as a columnist, and Long Quân in Melbourne and Gia Du in Sydney, as editors, the overseas Vietnamese media has a duty to openly advocate for a pluralistic and democratic Vietnam. Others like to treat this issue in a more subtle way.

Luu Tuong Quang va truyen thong dai chung Uc Chau (14)

30th Anniversary of Vietnamese Settlement at The Great Hall, Parliament House Canberra 2005 – From left: Nhân Quyền Weekly editor Long Quân, the Hon. Michael MacKellar, AM, Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (1975-1979) and Head of SBS Radio Lưu Tường Quang


However, where the interests of Vietnamese Australians were under threat, all outlets from self-styled commercial papers - such as Chiêu Dương in Sydney and TiVi Tuần San in Melbourne, to self-styled activists - such as Nhân Quyền in Melbourne and Việt Luận  in Sydney - would come together for a common cause. One such occasion eventuated in late 2003 when SBS TV - which is part of the publicly-funded SBS Corporation - decided to re-broadcast on and from 6 October the Hanoi-based VTV 4 programs. With unprecedented and unanimous support from the Vietnamese print and electronic media, the Vietnamese Community in Australia was able to hold in early December the biggest ever public demonstration of some 12 000-strong protesters against Australia’s national multicultural broadcaster. The ‘voices of the people’ in a democracy were heard by the SBS Board which subsequently took its final decision to terminate the re-broadcast.

For the Vietnamese community, 1996 was indeed a year of three fold significance. It was the end of a time line decided in the 1989 CPA to close down all UNHCR-sponsored refugee camps in South East Asia, the beginning of ‘new conservative’ politics in Australia with the ascendency of Prime Minister John Howard, and the rapid technological advances leading to the media convergence and multi platforms of delivery later.

Luu Tuong Quang va truyen thong dai chung Uc Chau (15)

From left: Lưu Tường Quang, Dr. Nguyễn Mạnh Tiến, veteran writer Phan Lạc Phúc and Ngọc Hân - Sydney 08.11.2007


Vietnamese asylum seekers ceased to be granted refugee status on a group basis a few years back, and from 1996 they were not even assessed individually at a refugee camp. For all practical purposes, Vietnam ceased to be a major source country for arrivals to Australia. The Howard government’s move away from the concept of multiculturalism did not adversely affect the Vietnamese community, but its policy of giving preference to skilled migration did. The combined effects of these two factors changed the Vietnamese demographics in Australia. Then, as Australia’s bilateral relationship with the SRV became closer, sponsored and private students from Vietnam came in increasing numbers. There are now more than 30 000 overseas Vietnamese students, representing around 10% of Vietnamese speakers in this country.                                                                                                                                                     

“We had to scale down our role as provider of settlement information to focus more on entertainment, as the community changed and our readership changed” said Nguyễn Vy Túy. As far back as in 2005, Long Quân told me that he had detected some change in the readership of Nhân Quyền. David Giang believed that his Chiêu Dương, might have had 20% new readers replacing the loss of first generation Vietnamese Australians over the years.

“The fact that Chiêu Dương is seen as a commercial daily makes it easier for recently arrived Vietnamese to buy”, David Giang commented. He also believed that Chiêu Dương could satisfy the needs of its readers –  new and old – because it provided a useful service not available elsewhere either in the Vietnamese or the mainstream media: columns and columns of advertisements, from job offers to jobs wanted, from house sharing to home coaching etc… This is a little “river of gold” in the same way as ads were the “river of gold” for the Daily Telegraph or the Sydney Morning Herald before online advertising became more fashionable and effective.

“It’s our considered policy not to post Chiêu Dương on the Net to protect this source of income”, David Giang intimated. Nguyễn Vy Túy agreed. “We decided not to post Văn Nghệ online, because at this stage, the Internet does not generate enough income to offset the costs”, he said.

Indeed the Vietnamese media – both print and electronic – have not embraced modern technology to provide their contents on multi platforms, except of course SBS Radio Vietnamese program which is government-funded. SBS Radio online was launched by Prime Minister John Howard on 26.10.2001, whereas so far only Việt Luận and TiVi  Tuần San are online.

Modern technology helps the Vietnamese media to meet challenges in terms of timeliness and costs. Today’s production is not labour intensive it used to be, and all sorts of writing materials are abundant and readily available on the Internet. The drawback, however, is that today’s readers would seldom find an original article.

“Vietnamese media has lost its skills in interviewing, investigating and reporting”, lamented Gia Du with a heavy heart. I share this view. The Vietnamese media has gradually lost its diversity in contents and in-depth reporting. This trend has already emerged across the whole industry and the Vietnamese media is not an exception.


Luu Tuong Quang va truyen thong dai chung Uc Chau (16)

                                                                    Old and new titles of Vietnamese print media in Australia



D. Conclusion


In Australia, the Vietnamese print media is a story of success against all odds, built mainly by committed pioneers without formal training and some acute business entrepreneurs. Over the years, younger Australian-born Vietnamese and recently some Vietnamese who came as oversea students, have entered the field as university graduates in media and communications, but they have not as yet made any real impact either in the mainstream or in the niche market serving Vietnamese Australians. The mainstream media landscape is highly competitive and – apart from some exceptions particularly in the national broadcasters i.e. the ABC and SBS – most end up working outside the media sector.


In the Vietnamese outlets, these young professionals are still trying to fit in. One reason, in my view, is because the second and third generation Vietnamese are yet to overcome a linguistic and cultural barrier in reverse: they do not have sufficient linguistic skill in Vietnamese and adequate knowledge of cultural sensitivity of older Vietnamese who are the major consumers, to put in good use of their training. The other reason is because most Vietnamese print and electronic media remain a family-based business. This pool of talent will not hopefully remain underutilized once the Vietnamese Australians move to the next stage of their integration, similar to some of the more established CALD communities such as the Italian, Greek and Jewish consumers of their own media products. The Greek and Italian newspapers (e.g. The Greek Herald and Neo Cosmos or the Italian Il Globo and La Fiamma) have become bi-lingual or partly bi-lingual while the Jewish News is wholly in English.


Provided the Vietnamese immigration to Australia would not cease in the same way as the Italian, Greek and Jewish, it may still be a long time before the Vietnamese language media could lose their local economic and cultural base to support their existence, even in a situation where, one would suspect, they would endure stronger competition, in terms of information and entertainment via the Internet, social media and other mobile devices for the Vietnamese diasporas, by products from Vietnam and from the USA.


When the Vietnamese community celebrated their 30th anniversary of settlement in 2005, I asked the same question I raise now in 2015 to a number of editors and former editors, including Long Quân in Melbourne, David Giang, Nguyễn Vy Túy and Lưu Dân in Sydney, and Trần Châu in Brisbane: “What is the future of the Vietnamese media?” Their prediction varied, but most believed the Vietnamese media would still play a useful role in the Vietnamese Australian community at least in the following decade. I have no doubt that they will for a few more decades. The irony is, amongst all editors in 2005, Hữu Nguyên was the most optimistic and yet his Saigon Times was the first to have gone during the past 5 years.


In ten years’ time when the Vietnamese Australian community reaches its half a century presence in Australia, I believe some among the dozen Vietnamese print weeklies and half a dozen electronic outlets would cease to exist, but those which are well-managed and adaptable will continue to survive – the survival of the financial and cultural fittest!



(c) Tuong Quang Luu, AO

     Sydney, 07 October 2015


(Source: VCA/NSW, 40th Anniversary of the Resettlement of the Vietnamese Community in Australia 1975-2015, Sydney, 2015)

Ngoc Han va truyen thong tai UC (16)
Vietnamese version:  Kỷ niệm 40 năm định cư người Việt Truyền thông Việt ngữ tại Úc Châu

Ý kiến bạn đọc
Around 1981 for about a year I wrote a weekly colum (in English) for Chuong Saigon - on matters cultural. I was then about 32 - formerly teaching ESOL at Cabramatta HS and Cabramatta Hostel AMES Centre - studying via Armidale for a Graduate Diploma - Multicultural Studies. Early days that kind of study. I was introduced in 1980 to CHU Van Hop (Hop Van CHU/PHAM Ngoc Cuong) and sought permission to undertake a survey via Chuong Sai-Gon of the readership. Following some discussions - he gave his permission - and following its successful conclusion he asked me to write a weekly column on aspects of Australian life. I did my best - each week between 800 and 1200 words - which he translated. It was my first such experience. I was happy to be part of something which explained something - no matter how limited - of this society as it then was. My wife and I moved away from Sydney in the mid-1980s and though I realise that CHU Van Hop was a rising star in the world of Ethnic Affairs in NSW - I lost track of him - by 1988 I was beginning studies and teaching of Japanese - spending most of the 1990s and 2000s in Japan. I returned to Australia in 2009 - seeking to find out CHU Van Hop - noting only that somehow he had died. Not how or where - or where he lies buried. I had real respect for him and would have enjoyed the opportunity to discuss with him how the 40+ years of life for people from Viet-nam in Australia had turned out. But not to be. I would like to know more. In January of 1980 I did a one-month summer school in tieng Viet at the ANU in Canberra. Some words and sentences remain in my head!
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Nguyện đem công đức này, trang nghiêm Phật Tịnh Độ, trên đền bốn ơn nặng, dưới cứu khổ ba đường,
nếu có người thấy nghe, đều phát lòng Bồ Đề, hết một báo thân này, sinh qua cõi Cực Lạc.

May the Merit and virtue,accrued from this work, adorn the Buddhas pureland,
Repay the four great kindnesses above, andrelieve the suffering of those on the three paths below,
may those who see or hear of these efforts generates Bodhi Mind, spend their lives devoted to the Buddha Dharma,
the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Quang Duc Buddhist Welfare Association of Victoria
Tu Viện Quảng Đức | Quang Duc Monastery
Senior Venerable Thich Tam Phuong | Senior Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang
Address: Quang Duc Monastery, 105 Lynch Road, Fawkner, Vic.3060 Australia
Tel: 61.03.9357 3544 ; Fax: 61.03.9357 3600
Website: http://www.quangduc.com ; http://www.tuvienquangduc.com.au (old)
Xin gửi Xin gửi bài mới và ý kiến đóng góp đến Ban Biên Tập qua địa chỉ:
quangduc@quangduc.com , tvquangduc@bigpond.com