Hanoi residents annoyed by public addresses

Stocking writes for the Associated Press. Vu Tien Hong contributed to this report.

Each day at around 4 p.m., Hoang Thi Gai tries to lull her 5-month-old grandson to sleep so that she can prepare supper. About 15 minutes later, a loudspeaker starts blaring just outside her Hanoi home.

“He starts screaming and crying and his face turns purple,” said Gai, 61. “My dear boy hasn’t been able to adapt.”

As signs of the Vietnam War fade away in this rapidly modernizing country, one relic is hard to miss: a nationwide network of loudspeakers from which the communist government blasts propaganda at dawn and dusk, 30 minutes at a stretch, whether the public likes it or not.


Now a Web-savvy Hanoi politician wants to silence the head-rattling messages and put them on the Internet, where people can read them at their leisure.

During the Vietnam War, the loudspeakers aired crucial warnings about bombing raids. Today, they broadcast an odd mix of local news, bureaucratic trivia, communist ideology and patriotic songs.

“I must admit, for people who live near the speakers, it’s a disaster. It hurts their ears,” Pham Van Hien said in an interview.

Hien, 38, is chairman of the People’s Committee in Hanoi’s Khuong Mai commune, one of more than 500 such elected officials in the capital. And, like any good politician, he has his finger on the popular pulse. His campaign against the loudspeakers has received resounding support in chat rooms, blogs and newspaper websites.

“Imagine if you lived near a loudspeaker and someone in your family was terminally ill and had to keep hearing a song like ‘There Has Never Been Such a Beautiful Day as Today,’ ” Hanoi resident Tran Hung wrote to the Tien Phong newspaper’s online edition.

“It’s cruel,” he continued. “If my neighbor made that kind of noise, I would take him to court. Why does the government give itself the right to create noise pollution?”


At the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which oversees the system, officials declined to comment on Hien’s effort.

Hien says his idea has received warm reviews from some of his higher-ups in the Communist Party who are eager to embrace technology and update their party’s image. But he is also careful not to push his plan too hard lest he annoy party bosses. Instead he is showing how the system can be modernized, hoping that officialdom will get the message -- that people should be allowed to “choose to listen rather than be forced to listen.”

Thousands of wards across Vietnam make loudspeaker broadcasts, including 577 in Hanoi alone. They tailor the content to their needs, but incorporate lots of information from the Ministry of Culture.

In Hien’s ward of 20,000 people, 60 loudspeakers on utility polls broadcast messages from a tiny guardhouse.

On a recent day, the reader was Tran Anh Tuyet, a 33-year-old state employee. She read from a government pamphlet called “Happy Family,” offering information about an upcoming national census. Then came exhortations to people to “enrich their spiritual life” by skipping TV and attending cultural events instead.

“Let’s make Hanoi beautiful in the eyes of international friends,” she read, urging citizens to create a “polite, cultured environment.”


The broadcasts often urge following the example of Ho Chi Minh, father of Vietnam’s communist revolution: “Live virtuously, work hard, and give your heart to the people.”

Hien’s website, the Khuong Mai News, offers everything the loudspeakers deliver, plus extra coverage ranging from floods to a Russian fortuneteller predicting President Obama’s future.

Hien says more than half the households in his district have access to the Internet at home, and there are also several Internet cafes in the area.

He says the site has received more than 800,000 hits since it went online last year. VietNamNet, an online newspaper, wrote a story about the site, and then state-run television did a story.

When the 7 a.m. loudspeaker broadcasts come on, Nguyen Thi Oanh, 23, buries her head under the blankets.

“Who cares about the news they read?” she said. “The sound is so bad, they all sound like they have a stuffy nose.”


At 68, Nguyen Thi Phuong is old enough to remember the speakers in wartime.

“Whenever they warned us about air raids, we rushed to the bomb shelters,” she said. “Those speakers saved many lives.”

But now they’re simply annoying, Phuong said. “Putting that information on the Internet is a wonderful idea.”