50 press agencies fined for publishing false information on fish sauce with excessive amounts of arsenic

NDO—The Ministry of Information and Communications said on November 21 that it has decided to fine 50 press agencies for publishing false information on fish sauce with excessive amounts of arsenic.

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Illustrative image

In particular, Thanh Nien (The Youth) will be fined VND200 million (nearly US$10,000) (the highest fine for administrative violations in press activities). Previously, the newspaper itself collected samples of fish sauces and sent them for testing, then announced inaccurate results via six articles. Thanh Nien's violation was identified as publishing false information causing harm to the national interest under Point B in Paragraph 6 of Article 8 of the Government's Decree No. 159/2013/ND-CP on regulating sanctions for administrative violations in press and publication activities. Additionally, individuals bearing responsibility for the incidents, such as the editorial board, heads of departments, journalists and correspondents of Thanh Nien, will also be fined under the provisions of the Press Law.

Other press agencies that followed and published the results of the survey conducted by Thanh Nien and the Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas) will also be fined for violations related to "false information causing very serious impacts according to Point A in Clause 5 of Article 8 of Decree No. 159/2013/ND-CP." Specifically, the online newspaper Nguoi Tieu Dung (Customers) will be fined VND50 million while the online newspapers Ha Noi Moi (New Hanoi), Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity), Nguoi Dua Tin (The Herald), Dan Viet (The Vietnamese People), Dan Sinh (People's Welfare) and Infonet will be fine VND45 million each and the online magazine Thuc Pham Chuc Nang (Functional Food) will be fined VND40 million.

The other 41 press units that only posted information on the results of the survey by Thanh Nien or Vinastas will be fined from VND10-15 million.

On October 7, Vinastas released a survey of 150 samples of commercially available fish sauce from nineteen cities and provinces throughout the country. The results claimed 70% of the sample pool exceeded the Ministry of Health's maximum limit of one milligram of arsenic per liter. The organization claimed that some samples contained five times that amount.

Arsenic exists in different chemical forms, which can be classified into two groups: organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is considered seriously toxic to human health, while organic arsenic, which is naturally found in fish and other seafood, is considered non-toxic.

Vinastas was accused of misleading the public by only using the generic term “arsenic” in its survey results and failing to distinguish the organic arsenic it found in fish sauce as non-toxic. The fish sauce associations said the survey has caused alarm among local consumers, which led a number of supermarkets and stores to temporarily halt sales.