Saucy fish scan­dal ran­kles Viet­nam me­dia out­let

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

VIET­NAM fined scores of news out­lets yes­ter­day for pub­lish­ing now-dis­cred­ited re­ports about toxic fish sauce, ac­cus­ing them of spark­ing pub­lic panic over the sta­ple condi­ment in a coun­try plagued by food scares.

Re­ports emerged in mid-Oc­to­ber that some fish sauce con­tained dan­ger­ously high lev­els of ar­senic, with lo­cal me­dia mainly cit­ing a sur­vey by the state-con­trolled Viet­nam Stan­dards and Con­sumers As­so­ci­a­tion (Vi­nas­tas).

The sto­ries ig­nited wide­spread fear in Viet­nam, where fish sauce is con­sumed daily by most of the coun­try’s 93 mil­lion peo­ple – as a dip­ping sauce, mari­nade or in soups.

The govern­ment said yes­ter­day the re­ports failed to dis­tin­guish be­tween highly toxic in­or­ganic ar­senic, and or­ganic ar­senic which is present mainly in seafood and is less toxic.

“The news caused panic in our so­ci­ety, caus­ing con­sumers to boy­cott tra­di­tional fish sauce ... se­ri­ously un­der­min­ing Viet­nam’s age-old fish sauce pro­duc­tion,” the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion said on its web­site.

Tra­di­tional fish sauce is made from fer­mented fish, while more mod­ern ver­sions are made with ar­ti­fi­cial flavour­ing.

The sur­vey sug­gested that tra­di­tion­ally made sauces were toxic.

The min­istry fined 50 news or­gan­i­sa­tions for run­ning the re­ports, in­clud­ing the main­stream Thanh Nien news­pa­per which was slapped with a nearly US$9000 penalty.

The news­pa­per, which re­ceived the high­est fine be­cause it also ran its own in­de­pen­dent sur­vey, was ac­cused of “pub­lish­ing in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion that un­der­mined na­tional in­ter­ests”, the min­istry said.

Other fines ranged from $450 to $2200 and the min­istry said 560 news items in to­tal were pub­lished.

Viet­nam rarely has to pun­ish its own me­dia be­cause the com­mu­nist party con­trols all news­pa­pers which are filled with state-sanc­tioned re­port­ing and pro­pa­ganda.

The re­ports were de­clared false af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Health Min­istry, which later con­cluded the fish sauce to be safe.

This is not the coun­try’s first food scare. In April, tonnes of dead fish be­gan wash­ing ashore in cen­tral Viet­nam, spark­ing panic about whether the marine life was safe to eat.

The dis­as­ter was blamed on a toxic waste dump by Tai­wanese steel firm For­mosa.

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