Vietnam's state-owned television network Vietnam TV, or VTV, celebrates the grand opening of its L.A. bureau today in a private event at a Los Angeles hotel. The number-one rated television network in Vietnam was established in 1970 with help from Cuban engineers and operated from a remote location outside Hanoi until the end of the Vietnam War, when it took over the American-built television infrastructure that had been operating in Saigon since 1966.
Although VTV already has a U.S. bureau in Washington D.C., the addition of a bureau in Southern California is noteworthy because of Orange County's large population of Vietnamese Americans, a community with lingering grievances and distrust of the Vietnamese government. According to Le Vu, editor of the Orange County-based Viet Weekly, which was subjected to a prolonged boycott in 2007 over accusations of being insufficiently anti-communist, VTV's L.A. bureau marks a new era for the state-run television network.
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"People in Vietnam are interested in anything to do with America," Le said. "So VTV has had an office in D.C. for five or six years and did stories on the White House and the Capitol and traveled the U.S. to do stories on life in America. But the one area where they hesitated to approach was Southern California, where there is a large South Vietnamese immigrant population." Because VTV is run by the Vietnamese government, it's likely to avoid any political or news issues that Hanoi "doesn't find attractive," Le added.
"They will have to play along the party line and not engage in open dialogue."
However, Hanoi's top propaganda mission at the moment—challenging China's effort to take over the South China Sea—reflects a historic sense of Vietnamese nationalism that is shared by even the most strident anti-communist Vietnamese Americans. And the U.S. government's policy on the issue has aligned itself with the Hanoi regime.
That said, Le suspects that most of the programming that will come out of VTV's new office will avoid politics and focus more on Hollywood. "When it comes to entertainment and cultural issues, they have a lot more freedom," he said. While opening an office in L.A. is a far cry from setting up a bureau inside Little Saigon, Le expects that VTV will gradually try to make its presence felt in the heart of the Vietnamese-American community—an effort that is not likely to go unnoticed by Hanoi's bitter foes in O.C.
"Their intention is to do more stories in the community, and they think the time is right with the relationship between Vietnam and the U.S. getting better," Le explained. "They are gradually leaning to a more open society in Vietnam, but it is hard to tell how the anti-Vietnam population [in OC] will react."