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Thousands protest at SBS

By Stephen Gibbs
December 3, 2003

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Taking a stand . . . protesters gather outside SBS headquarters in a rally against the Vietnamese news service Thoi Su. Photo: Jon Reid

It was rumoured that Cabramatta train station had run out of tickets yesterday as one of the largest ever gatherings of Australian Vietnamese travelled to Artarmon to demand that SBS stop broadcasting a communist news service.

The street in front of the SBS headquarters was blocked by up to 12,000 protesters, holding helium-filled balloons declaring "No VC News on SBS TV" and waving Australian and the old South Vietnamese yellow and red flags.

Many Vietnamese Australians are outraged at SBS for broadcasting the VTV4 news program Thoi Su, produced by Vietnam's communist government, as part of its WorldWatch bulletin of foreign-language services.

The rally's organisers, the Vietnamese Community of Australia, estimated there were 12,000 protesters, while police said about 11,000 - the largest Vietnamese gathering in Australia outside a festival.

The protesters want SBS to drop Thoi Su because they say its positive depiction of present-day Vietnam and the communist party they fled is offensive.

June Phan, who escaped from Vietnam by boat in 1978, said that broadcasts of Thoi Su made her feel as if she were still being persecuted by the communist regime.

"We want freedom in Australia and they follow us here," Ms Phan said. "I see the communist flag everywhere, especially I see the Ho Chi Minh statue. It reminds me of the past. I want to vomit when I see them."

Among their supporters yesterday were the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, the NSW Labor Council, the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union and the Unity Party MP Peter Wong.

The protesters sang Advance Australia Fair, the patriotic song Vietnam, Vietnam and the old South Vietnamese national anthem, before hearing more than two hours of speeches.

At noon they were told the Cabramatta station had run out of tickets, but a State Rail Authority spokeswoman said later that power had been turned off shortly after peak hour for maintenance.

Those who addressed the group generally supported the work of SBS, but insisted the broadcaster had made a mistake by adding Thoi Su to its schedule.

The SBS board, which would have to change the broadcaster's declared charter responsibilities and code of practice if it were to drop Thoi Su, is expected to decide the show's future on Friday.

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