On 13 July 2017, the legislature’s General Secretary Nguyen Hanh Phuc announced that, “Starting from [that day], reporters will only be allowed to attend the first five minutes of each meeting”. Instead of following the full meetings, journalists will be given press releases at the end of the meeting detailing what was discussed. This is supposedly to enable members of the Standing Committee to discuss “sensitive” topics more openly and in-depth without fear of leaking “national secrets”.
According to domestic media, who were only informed of the ban that day, even though a press release was issued after the 13 July meeting, it did not cover either the detailed content of the discussion or opinions of specific members of the Committee. The press release has also not been published on the Committee’s official website.
Replacing the access of independent media to parliamentary sessions with parliament-issued press releases removes the ability of journalists to hold representatives accountable to the public. It also has an obvious negative impact on unbiased flows of information.
Under international human rights standards, journalists should be afforded maximum access to parliaments in order to report on the legislative process and the work of elected representatives. This is required as part of the rights to freedom of expression and information (Article 19) and the right to participate in public affairs (Article 25) of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a party.
ARTICLE 19 urges the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of Vietnam to withdraw this groundless decision. Furthermore, information in detail regarding the meetings of the Standing Committee which journalists have been barred from, as well as the National Assembly at large, should be made accessible and available on all official channels.