Oh those crazy headlines — if anything proves to us that we’re in a less than developed country, it has to be Vietnam’s media. Doesn’t it?
Recently, in just a few minutes I unearthed the following stories, all printed in one day:
Caught on camera — The crazy moment when a shopkeeper clung to the bonnet as the disgruntled customer drove away.
Health — Bungling doctor tells tragic TB-stricken teenager she’s lovesick and should see spiritual healer.
China — ‘Sneaky’ Chinese get all the best spots in overseas universities by spending fortunes on interview coaching. Meanwhile ‘dumb’ Chinese builders attempt to build underground car park beneath a high rise *after* building it.
Animals — Domestic cats can kill you and there’s a new dance craze for dogs.
Sex — Women who ride bicycles don’t enjoy sex.
Oh you crazy Vietnamese.
Except these aren’t Vietnamese headlines.
These are all headlines from just one issue of the Daily Mail — Britain’s second biggest daily newspaper. It’s owned by a trust that is headed by a real live viscount. Its editor Paul Dacre is chairman of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, which is part of Britain’s Press Complaints Committee.
However, it seems to be that newspapers here in Vietnam are read by the country’s foreign residents in a fundamentally differently way to how they are in England. In the west, tabloids are read to pass the time. The ‘puff’ pieces are mildly amusing, and the same old foreigner/immigrant bashing is irritating but sadly pretty standard.
But just like Vietnam, the Daily Mail loves a health scare. There’s even a website devoted to attempting to track all of the things that the Daily Mail says will give you cancer — this includes everything from biscuits to blow-jobs. On a hunch I just searched the Daily Mail for ‘Jesus’ face’. There are 714 results — the top five being the Messiah’s features popping up on a cider bottle, a guitar, a newly plastered ceiling, a baby scan and a flip-flop.
Yet when non-Vietnamese read a paper in Vietnam we somehow see its freakish content as symptomatic of the whole country. In a couple of seconds the link is copied and pasted on Twitter or Facebook or it is blogged. Look at this, these crazy Vietnamese papers. What will they write next?
For a true comparison, can you imagine how Daily Mail stories would read if they were first translated by staff then edited by inexperienced migrant workers?
Personally I’m a Guardian reader, Britain’s soft left, chattering-classes broadsheet. Surely not much to get you annoyed there. Except there is, daily.
Will The Voice beat Britain’s Got Talent in the ratings? World leaders meet up — check out what their wives wore. Here’s a gallery of Brad Pitt’s best hair cuts.
Quality press in action there.
But this is what newspapers do. They provoke, they irritate and they goad you into a reaction. For a few extra hits they’re not averse to scraping the good-taste barrel. They’ll be as dumb as they need to be.
I used to work for a local paper in the UK where the weekly columnist labelled pensioners “scroungers” for claiming free bus passes. When the editor had to publish a front page apology he did so gleefully. Love it or hate it — you can’t ignore it — after the apology was printed, circulation went up.
Frankly I can’t imagine the population of any country being entirely happy with its media but in the end, the issue here isn’t that the Vietnamese media is so different to that of the west.
The problem is that it’s depressingly similar.