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Mixed Reception : Vietnamese Station Faces Critics Who Say Broadcast Backs Communist Agenda

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

She expected controversy, but Trang Nguyen was stunned by the organized protests when she started broadcasting interviews with Vietnamese government officials over the airwaves of Orange County’s Little Saigon Radio.

Since June 20, the fledgling Vietnamese-language radio station in Santa Ana has been airing the interviews with Communist leaders conducted by the British Broadcasting Corp. Nguyen said she believed broadcasting them was a service to the Vietnamese American community.

While several Vietnamese leaders have cheered the broadcasts, others in the community are angered, saying the radio station is providing a forum for the Communists’ effort to solicit cooperation from Vietnamese in the United States.

“Vietnamese Communists are focusing their efforts on infiltrating the overseas Vietnamese communities to maintain a Communist regime that betrays the Vietnamese people,” opponents of the broadcasts said in a statement after a protest meeting Sunday in Westminster’s Little Saigon business district.

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About 100 Vietnamese Americans who attended the meeting, organized by the Committee to Protect Human Rights in Vietnam, demanded that Little Saigon Radio stop the broadcasts immediately. In their statement, they urged Vietnamese “political refugees” to oppose all news broadcasts that would benefit the “false regime in Hanoi.”

Nguyen, 35, president of Little Saigon Radio, which began operation just a year ago, said she was stunned by the response.

“But we’re not going to change our way of broadcasting,” said Nguyen, who holds a linguistics degree from San Diego State University. “We’ll practice journalism the way we learned how to do it in America.”

She said she and her employees have received death threats, including anonymous calls threatening to bomb the radio station. One call came just days after the first broadcast June 20, she said.

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Nguyen said she has been unable to establish that the threats were coming from those openly opposed to the broadcasts.

During a reception in Westminster for two BBC executives who visited the radio station last week, Nguyen said an anonymous caller told the owner of the restaurant where the reception was being held that a bomb was planted on the roof and was ready to explode.

However, the building was not vacated. The threats turned out to be a hoax, said John Thai, Nguyen’s husband, who helps run the station.

Thai said the callers might have been trying to frighten the radio station’s employees, without any intention to carry out the threats.

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He said that initial efforts were made to report the threats to the Westminster and Santa Ana police, but these were not followed through because “we’re not overly worried.”

The Westminster and Santa Ana police said they have not received formal complaints about the bomb and death threats.

According to a Los Angeles Times Poll conducted earlier this year, only a minority of Orange County’s Vietnamese community staunchly opposes the resumption of relations with Vietnam’s Communist regime.

Little Saigon Radio, which has 16 hours of Vietnamese-language programming daily starting at 6 a.m., obtained the rights to broadcast live BBC reports from London.

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The half-hour morning broadcasts in Vietnamese feature news reports from inside Vietnam and around the world, commentaries, and interviews with world leaders. The BBC is a revered institution in Vietnam, and about 6 million people there listen to the broadcasts daily, Nguyen said.

The couple said bringing the BBC broadcasts to Orange County was a coup that the radio station had hoped would boost its credibility within the community.

“We made history,” Thai said. “I think some people are jealous that we can provide this kind of service to the community.”

But broadcasting the interviews sparked an emotional debate over whether Vietnam’s Communist leaders should be given a forum to reach Vietnamese immigrants in the United States. One interview was with the petroleum executive director and another was with a Vietnamese doctor who had conducted studies of malnutrition among Vietnamese children.

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Opponents said the interviews were nothing more than Communist propaganda, but other community leaders said the discussions were “healthy for the community,” and in a free country like the United States there should be no censorship.

“If you’re advocating for democracy, you must be prepared to practice it,” said Judy Stowe, head of the BBC Vietnamese section, who visited the radio station last week with longtime BBC announcer Do Van.

Stowe said she finds it odd that Vietnamese Americans would denounce the BBC broadcasts, which Hanoi leaders consider anti-Communist propaganda.

“We get criticized from both directions,” Stowe said. “We feel we’re doing it right.”

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She said that many Vietnamese have told her that they listened to the BBC despite the threat of danger to themselves while in Vietnam. It is ironic, she said, that now that they are free in America, others would want to censor the broadcasts.

Van, who broadcast the fall of Saigon in 1975 using reports from fellow BBC reporters inside Vietnam, said that many Vietnamese just don’t want to hear the voices of the Communist leaders.

“These people have caused them so much suffering,” Van said. “They don’t want to listen, regardless of what they (Communists) are saying.”

Quynh N. Nguyen, a member of the South Vietnamese Navy Veterans Assn., said the Communists “don’t necessarily tell the truth. I don’t think it’s good to help them voice their opinions in public.”

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But Mai Cong, head of the Vietnamese American Community of Orange County, said that Little Saigon Radio provides a service to the community.

“As individuals, we can exercise our own judgment whether we want to listen to a particular program or not,” she said. “It’s needed in the community, especially for people who have difficulty following news in English.”


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