Mrs Nguyen Thi Van Anh, former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Vietnam Economic Times, shares her memories of the magazine's early days.
Foreigners wishing to understand more about Vietnam’s economy or society today need only browse through Vietnam Economic Times (VET) or other newspapers and online publications in English, French, Japanese or Chinese. Twenty years ago, however, as Vietnam began opening up to the world, finding information was an entirely different matter. I remember in 1992, when foreign friends such as Ms Joly Koh from Singapore, Mr Alan Janet from Switzerland and Mr Macent Lorent from France were looking at the potential of the country and its people and what was contained in its investment policies. Their questions came to me, as they knew I was a journalist and an Editor-in-Chief, of the “Thoi Trang tre” (Young Fashion) magazine, and, they presumed, had access to a wide range of information. But for the most part this access was limited to Vietnamese documents. Amid this widespread lack of information in English, VET, the country’s English-language economics publication, was launched on March 15 1994, marking a new step in the country’s international integration process.
Any article on the establishment of VET must mention the role of its founders: Professor Dao Nguyen Cat and the Ringier Group from Switzerland. Professor Cat is well known in media circles as the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief; a role he continues to hold in his 87th year. In 1991 he founded the Vietnamese-language “Thong tin Kinh te” (Economic News), which was rebranded as “Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam” (Vietnam Economic Times) soon after. At this time the Vietnamese Government had begun efforts to eliminate the subsidy mechanism in the country and move towards a new market mechanism. It is difficult now to imagine the difficulties the new publication faced as it fought to stand on its own two feet. It was propitious, then, that Professor Cat met the well-known media group Ringer, which enabled the fledgling newspaper to take off.
Having gone to Sweden to study journalism in 1992 I was familiar with Ringier. In 1993 it became a partner of “Thoi Trang tre” when I was at the helm. At this time Ringier was only foreign media group allowed to invest in Vietnam. It also gained approval to cooperate with two Vietnamese newspapers; one of which was “Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam”. It contributed significantly to modernising the two newspapers, from design to printing techniques. The investment from Ringier helped our newspaper pay higher salaries than was previously possible, giving us the means to attract talented reporters from the media community.
In early 1994 Professor Cat and Ringer established a new era for Vietnam’s foreign-language economic journalism. On March 15 that year VET Issue No 1 was officially launched. I remember a meeting attended by a number of Editors-in-Chief of local publications, where Professor Cat proudly held 30 copies of the magazine aloft. Everyone was surprised upon seeing the cover, which had a photo of a man in military uniform driving a “cyclo” and carrying a foreign woman who was talking on a mobile phone. The image was striking and more than just a little unsettling for the older leaders in the gathering but was so fresh and innovative. Ringier had created a unique content and design for VET, and it was this that attracted international readers to the magazine.
VET arrived at just the right time. In the first “Editor’s Letter”, Professor Cat wrote: “The goal of VET is to accurately introduce foreign readers Vietnam’s policies on economic innovation and enterprises and to the Vietnamese people.” It was just what foreign businesses that were looking to invest in a largely unknown country like Vietnam needed. Though the $5 price tag was a little high for a local publication, VET sold well, secured advertisers, and continued to grow.
In 2001 I was contemplating retirement but was offered the stewardship of VET by Professor Cat. I accepted the offer and began working towards making VET even more appealing to investors. We shook hands with the Foreign Investment Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) to organise economic forums, conferences and online roundtables on economic issues in need of resolution. VET did a fantastic job in being a bridge between enterprises and policymakers, while at the same time fulfilling its media mission.
All economic sectors in Vietnam are treated equally today but in the past State-owned enterprises were more favoured by management authorities than foreign-invested enterprises. VET therefore worked with MPI to establish the Golden Dragon Awards (GDA). Since 2001 the GDA have acknowledged the role foreign-invested enterprises play in Vietnam’s economy and contributed to creating equality among all economic sectors. VET truly became a close partner of the foreign business community.
Twenty is a beautiful age and marks the reaching of a certain maturity. This is also true of VET. In the early days there were myriad difficulties facing its leaders and staff but all were overcome and a new home, the V.E.T Building, rose from the ground. This opened up a new chapter for “Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam”. Leaders and staff alike have been more than willing to overcome the obstacles no matter the shape of Vietnam’s economy. With its cooperation with Ringier having come to an end, VET has stayed strong and kept growing. Looking back over the last 20 years, each of us can be proud of the publication and believe that a bright future lies ahead.
Mrs Nguyen Thi Van Anh
former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Vietnam Economic Times