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Authorities Soften Line On Foreign Advertising

February 9, 1996

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ Stung by foreign criticism, the government said Friday that it had gone too far in its campaign against foreign advertisements, which has left Hanoi walls pock-marked with white paint covering foreign brand names.

But Culture Minister Tran Hoan said the government remains committed to tightening controls over foreign advertising as part of its two-month-old campaign to step up censorship of information and entertainment.

The campaign is called a struggle against social evils and imported cultural poisons, and official media promoting it have warned against foreign ideas undermining socialism.

Hoan avoided ideological rhetoric and said advertising is not considered a cultural poison, even though it is targeted in the campaign. He also said the government should have done a better job of explaining its new advertising policy, which requires that ads be mainly in Vietnamese.

``Yesterday we had a meeting. We criticized ourselves and we admitted that the information to the foreign community and foreign press is rather late,″ he told a rare news conference.

The government is torn between its desire for foreign investment and its need to placate conservative Communist and military officials who fear rising foreign influence.

Hoan said his office received an outpouring of complaints from foreign businessmen after Hanoi police last week ordered shops, restaurants and business places to remove or cover signs with foreign names or words. Some police demanded shop owners deface or destroy the signs.

``We will discuss further the implementation and amendment of the regulations,″ he said, without elaboration.

Buildings throughout the city center bear strips of white paper or white paint where foreign brand names formerly were displayed. Many signs still bear the distinctive red and blue Pepsi logo or green Castrol motor oil logo, with big white patches where the names were. Coke signs are splotches of red paint.

Authorities in other cities have been more restrained. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s commercial center, store owners have been told to cover foreign brand names only if they are on the same sign as the shop name. Tens of thousands of separate ad boards, including massive billboards and neon signs on major streets, remain untouched.

Nguyen Vinh Cat, director of the Hanoi city culture and information department, said the new rules require that shop and office signs be in Vietnamese with any foreign text in smaller letters underneath. They also ban mixing brand names and shop names on one board.

He said ads with just foreign brand names and logos are permissible, but that conditions are still being worked out. Many of the signs destroyed last week were of this kind.

``We don’t want to limit advertising. We just want to make it more orderly and attractive,″ Cat said.

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