A digital TV station has said sorry and suspended a production team for their failure to abide by proper editing procedures and to blur the identity of the characters in a purportedly staged feature.
The TV station has also refuted the accusation that its reporter had staged one scene in that feature.
In one of its programs aired on Saturday evening, VTC officially apologized for its failure to adhere to the editing standards for the use of information and images and to conceal the characters’ identity in a recent feature on the VTC14 channel.
VTC is a digital TV station under the Ministry of Information and Communications.
The feature aired on VTC14 on Friday last week and showed a group of students in school uniforms relishing shisha.
Shisha is an Oriental tobacco pipe with a long, flexible tube connected to a container where the smoke is cooled as it passes through water.
In recent years, an increasing number of youngsters, including middle and high school students, have been hooked on the drug, which is readily available at tea and coffee shops across Vietnam.
There is currently no ban on the advertising and sale of shisha despite their worrying health risks.
The addictive substance is considered illegal only when it is illicitly imported.
Many youngsters, including school students, are seen smoking shisha in a café in Vung Tau City, some 100 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, on March 21, 2015. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A policeman (R) is pictured checking on shisha smoking pipes in a café in Vung Tau City on March 21, 2015. Photo: Tuoi Tre
School name tags, faces, full names distinctly exposed
The VTC14 channel presented their feature as an investigative program and misled the viewers into believing that the reporter was stealthily recording the youngsters getting high on the substance with a hidden camera.
But the channel kept denying it, saying it was “not an investigative program” and its reporter did not stage it either.
“The program was only meant to raise an alarm over one of the insidious fads among the young, and received cooperation from the students,” VTC explained.
The disputable feature depicted a group of eleventh graders in uniforms of Tran Nhan Tong and Viet Duc High Schools in Hanoi pampering themselves with shisha in a café, located on Dao Duy Tu Street in Hoan Kiem District, and answering some questions from a reporter.
To the students’ shock, their school name tags, faces, and full names were distinctly exposed in the feature.
Upon seeing the TV program, the filmed students were plunged into anxiety and depression over being laid bare in such a sensitive situation.
The identity exposure has also dealt a devastating blow to their families.
Pham Vu, a youngster thought to be involved, wrote on his Facebook that the feature was actually staged.
P. L., T. T., and A.V., three 11th graders from Tran Nhan Tong School, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Thursday that they had yet to get over the shock.
T., who appeared in the feature smoking shisha, revealed that Q., a student of Dong Kinh High School and also T.’s close friend, was asked by Mai Anh Thu, one of VTC14’s apprentice reporters, to gather a couple of friends to act in a shisha smoking scene for a feature.
The students were told that the feature was intended to raise local youngsters’ awareness of the damaging health hazards of shisha smoking so that they would steer clear from the insidious habit.
Q. asked T. to join and T. invited P.L., A.V., and D.A., students from Viet Duc High School, to partake as well.
The youngsters went to a café on Dao Duy Tu Street on Wednesday last week for an appointment with Thu, the VTC14 reporter, who ordered them shisha and drinks, T. recounted.
T. and the other students told Tuoi Tre that they were instructed to smoke shisha by the reporter and answered her questions.
A.V. showed Tuoi Tre the Facebook messages which they claimed were sent between them and Thu prior to the filming day.
In the messages, Thu was allegedly requesting the students to wear their school uniforms to the filming site and promised to blur the tags on their shirts which bear their school names.
One of the messages showed one of the students asking Thu if they would be paid for their roles in the feature.
A still image from a purportedly staged feature aired on VTC14 shows a group of high school students smoking shisha in a café in Hanoi. The students' identity was not blurred in the feature.
T. noted that during the filming process all of them were given several interview questions, but T. was asked by Thu to answer them again whenever the other students gave the answers which the reporter did not find satisfactory.
“The reporter interviewed me for up to 30 minutes, but most of our answers, which were indicative of our frowns on shisha smoking among youths, were omitted from the aired program. The broadcast showed only some of our utterances with sensitive content, such as ‘We smoke shisha just for fun,’” A.V. told Tuoi Tre.
Leaders of the students’ schools also fumed over the incident.
Nguyen Thi Minh Nguyet, vice principal of Tran Nhan Tong High School, told Tuoi Tre that the reporter had a working session with her school’s leaders, which were joined by the students.
“I can say with certainty that the feature was a mere staged report and was not an actual investigative feature as it was seemingly presented. Thu remained silent over such an accusation during our working session,” Nguyet said.
She added that her school has demanded VTC clarify the incident and admit the feature made use of the students’ naivety.
VTC on Tuesday sent the Hanoi Department of Education and Training and Tran Nhan Tong and Viet Duc High Schools a document in which they asserted that Thu had complied with journalistic procedures and respected the truth.
The digital TV station has urged the school to take only mild disciplinary measures against the students involved if they are to punish them.
They are too young to be fully aware of their actions’ consequences, the station said.