Popular Vietnamese cable television provider VTV CAB has stopped providing foreign channels, including CNN and BBC, after a new media law that requires editing of programmes before broadcast came into effect on Wednesday last week.
Known as "Decision 20", the law requires that translation and editing be performed by an agency licensed by the government and that content is "appropriate to the people's healthy needs and does not violate Vietnamese press law". It also says commercials running on foreign channels must be made in Vietnam.
Foreign governments and a leading pay TV trade group have urged the Vietnamese government to modify the decree, saying it is tantamount to allowing it the right to censor.
While experts say it remains unclear how the new regulations will be enforced, VTV CAB is the second broadcaster to drop its foreign channels.
Its move came after K+, a joint venture between France's Canal+ and a local Vietnamese media company, said last week it had ceased providing 21 foreign channels to subscribers as it was "illegal" to broadcast them after the new law came into effect. A company spokeswoman said last week the broadcaster would reinstate the foreign channels if they complied with the law.
The BBC said it was trying to resolve the issue with the government.
Vietnam's government is increasingly restricting freedom of political and religious expression in general, especially online.
Foreign channels are broadcast to Vietnam with a half-hour delay, to allow sensitive content to be blocked if needed. The perception created by the new law of extra restrictions on foreign businesses adds to Vietnam's difficulties in attracting investment at a time its growth has slowed.
The new rules originally said foreign channels had to provide simultaneous translation of all content into Vietnamese - a move likely to be very costly, particularly for breaking news, and which forced a number of channels to cease broadcasting.
But vocal opposition from industry groups and foreign governments prompted authorities to revise the new rules in March to require subtitles for films and documentaries only.
The Hong Kong-based Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia said the situation was "unclear" although Hanoi had told the body it did not want to exclude foreign news.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse