The Vietnamese Government’s recently issued decree on the management, supply and use of Internet services and online information reflects its unceasing efforts to better its legal system, just as many other governments in the world do during the country’s development.

With booming information in the Internet era, freedom of speech and the press have become global issues, requiring the close watch of each government. It is the responsibility of every government to prevent the negative problems arising from the Internet so that freedom of speech and the press serves the legitimate interests of people, ensuring national stability and development.

Based on their own conditions and situations, countries in the world have developed their individual policies to ensure freedom of speech. However, none of them consider freedom of speech as unlimited, but belongs within a legal framework. Free speech is protected only when it does not violate the legal and legitimate interests of the nation and community as well as other basic rights.

As we can see in reality, many countries’ laws recognise freedom of speech and a free press, but they do not consider it as “absolute”. In the US, Article 2385, Chapter 115 of the US Criminal Code stipulates punishment on anyone who “prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States”. The US Constitution allows the Supreme Court to hand out legal punishment on discovering any act by the press that damages, defames or slanders the State, society or individuals. In fact, the US Supreme Court issues a large number of documents every year to control and manage the press. The Constitutions of all the states also permit prosecution for abusing freedom of speech and the press.

Taking a look at other countries, the Media Development Agency (MDA) under the Singaporean Ministry of Information and Communication recently issued a regulation, under which licensed news websites must remove content that damages racial and religious harmonisation within 24 hours upon its request. Article 17 of the Kyrgyzstan Constitution clearly defines that: “Restrictions on the exercise of rights and freedom shall be allowed by the Constitution and laws of the Kyrgyz Republic only for the purposes of protecting rights and freedoms of other persons, public safety and order, territorial integrity, and constitutional order.” In Africa , Chapter 8 in Senegal ’s Constitution acknowledges the guarantee of the rights of freedom of speech and the press. However, it makes these rights subject to adjustment by legal regulations.

All the above-mentioned things are in accordance with the content of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as said in Article 29: “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible…, shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in the democratic society.”

It is obvious that the act of abusing the right of free speech or using it to provoke or demean others will not be protected. Some years ago, several Danish and French newspapers published cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, thus causing a wave of anger among the Muslim community worldwide. The phone hacking scandal and the infringement of professional ethics by the UK’s number 1 tabloid, News of the World, led to its closure. The scandal led to the UK Government issuing new regulations for stricter censorship. An organisation was set up under the government with the right to ban the operations, terminate the publication of a newspaper or fine and force it to issue an apology on the front page if infringements are made.

A more recent and bigger world-shaking event was the phone hacking scandal involving the US National Security Agency (NSA). According to the US and Western media, the NSA recorded phone calls of tens of millions of people as well as hacked the computers of many important organisations and individuals inside and outside the country to collect information and private data over a long period of time. The spying programme, named PRISM, astonished the spy world and leaders of many countries and was described as an “attack on the US Constitution” by the US press and not a few parliamentarians.

All the cited examples affirm that no country considers the right of speech and press freedom as absolute. Social communication activities as well as websites of individuals and organisations enjoy freedom of speech within the framework of the law. In the context of leaping developments of the information sector, especially the Internet, the move taken by countries, including Vietnam, to consolidate laws relating to information is aimed at managing and building a stable society for development, with a view of both making full use of the positive impacts and minimise the negative effects the Internet has on society, culture, awareness and ideology, and particularly young people’s lifestyles. Electronic information, social networks, online games should be developed in a healthy manner. The act of using the names of organisations and individuals to scatter false information violates the legitimate rights and interests of the organisations and individuals. Some such acts even disturb financial information, causing negative impacts on the monetary market and the economy. Even worse, the establishment and use of websites under the name of another person to distort the facts may lead to internal division, destroy solidarity and cause social disorder.

Online activities are growing in popularity, playing an indispensable part in social life. Those who use social networks can see how dangerous their negative impacts are without effective management tools. Online activities by any citizen of any country have to abide by the nation’s legal regulations and laws. Vietnam’s issuance of Decree 72 is to better protect citizens’ legitimate interests. The creation of a more transparent legal corridor to develop the Internet is a necessary and appropriate action as many other countries in the world have, and are doing.-VNA