National TV apologizes to vegetable farmers after fabricating report

By Chan Nhan   May 13, 2016 | 02:14 am PT
National TV apologizes to vegetable farmers after fabricating report
Screen-shot of the coverage
Vietnam Television has been forced to offer vegetable farmers in Thanh Hoa province an apology after broadcasting a report that showed them apparently deceiving customers using a “brooming” technique.

VTV3 broadcast the report of “The Magic Broom” on May 3, which showed vegetable farmers in Vinh Loc district sweeping a broom over their beds of vegetables, explaining: “Customers are scared of vegetables with smooth leaves because they think we must have used pesticides during cultivation. That’s why we have to do this to make holes in the leaves just as the pests do to trick buyers.” The reporter also interviewed several people to find out if believed that vegetables with perfect leaves must be a product of pesticides and were therefore unsafe to eat.

The coverage, which quickly went viral among Vietnamese viewers, was met with outrage from farmers in Vinh Loc. They claimed that the crew deliberately tricked them into staging the broom sweeping scenes and edited the interviews.

“On April 30, a group of journalists came to our village, saying they were working on a story about local vegetable cultivation. She [the reporter] asked a relative of mine to bring out a broom and sweeping over the garden beds in front of the camera.” said Le Thi Van, 43, a local vegetable farmer.

“We thought they were promoting our green products through their coverage,” added Nguyen Thi Bich, a villager.

Truong Thi Dien, the farmer who appeared in the story, explained: “They gave me a broom and asked me to sweep over the top of the vegetables for them to film. They also told me that because people are wary of vegetables with smooth leaves, growers have to do this to trick their customers. All I did was just repeat what they said, and it was someone else’s garden, not mine.”

Since the fabricated story was aired, many farmers in the district have been unable to sell their products.

On May 10, producer Pham Thi Phuong returned to the district and apologized to the villagers for making up the story. The farmers, however, did not accept her individual apology and insisted VTV produce another report about how they actually grow their vegetables.

On May 11, VTV published an announcement on its website stating: "We discovered that journalist Pham Thi Phuong had learned about the subject merely through her observations and without properly checking the facts, falsely illustrating the case and staging some scenes. This violates our operational procedures. Pham Thi Phuong has therefore been suspended from work.”

The announcement went on with a public apology from the editorial board to those affected and local authorities, calling it the result of "a lack of operational proficiency and journalism ethics, as well as a lack of a proper vetting process".

In response to the announcement, Chairman of Vinh Thanh People’s Committee Tran Van Khanh said: "The farmers have accepted the apology posted on Vietnam Television's website at midnight on May 11.” However, the report has caused serious damage to local vegetable businesses, and they are asking for compensation for their losses.

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