Journalism in Cochinchina under the French Colonial Rule

Journalism in Cochinchina under the French Colonial Rule

According to the treaties between the Huế court and the French government in 1862 and 1881, the Southern region of Vietnam (Nam Kỳ, or Cochinchina) was a French colony, at least prior to 1945. The governor, who also took command of French forces in Vietnam at the time, issued the circulars, claiming that Cochinchina was under the French control and anyone who reject this decision had to emigrate to the Central region (Trung Kỳ, or Annam). Those who choose to stay must convert their citizenship from Vietnamese to French. 

Due to this event, many people left the South and settled in Phan Thiết, an area that belongs to the Central region, forming a village called Đông Châu village.

There was an important law concerning “freedom of the press” passed in France on July 29, 1881, which also affected Cochinchina. However, we should first mention two other laws that had been passed beforehand.

The first law was approved by the French president in 1880, regulating the punishment for the behaviors regarded as violating the law of journalism in Guyane, Sénegal, and other colonies of France.

The second law was passed on May 25, 1881, stating that: “All Vietnamese people born and living in Cochinchina be French. Once assenting to the rule of the French, they must learn our language and accept our customs. We cannot grant the rights to a citizen who does not understand our civilization”. Besides, the second law also claimed that: “Those who were born in Cochinchine are French, but they can continue abiding to the Vietnamese current regulations. And if they wish, from the age of 21 onwards, they can officially ask the French government for all the rights of a French citizen. In that case, they, together with their spouse and children, must obey the civil and political laws applying to the French in colonies”.

The two aforementioned laws showed that all citizens living in Cochinchina, be it French or Vietnamese, should have all the rights of an average French. So once the law on “freedom of the press” was applied to Cochinchina, not only the French but also the Vietnamese were able to benefit from it.

Paul Doumer, the governor-general who issued the law concerning journalism in Cochinchina in 1898

The law relating to journalism passed in France on July 29, 1881 was later imposed in Cochinchina from September 22, 1881.

It claimed that the publishing of newspapers in Cochinchina would be totally free, meaning there would be no prerequisite rules constraining the establishment of a newspaper. In particular, the law consists of the following points:

  • Article 1: The printing of books and newspapers is free.
  • Article 5: The publishing of all newspapers and periodicals needs no permission in advance and are free of charge, as long as having registered in accordance to article 7.
  • Article 6: There must be one editor in chief for all newspapers and periodicals. This person must be a French adult who has all the rights of a French citizen and has never been disfranchised by the court.
  • Article 7: Before publishing the newspapers or the periodicals, fill in a register form that includes the following information:

    – Title of the newspaper or the periodical, and the manner of publishing.

    – Name and address of the editor in chief.

    – The address of the printing house.

    The register form must be submitted at least 5 days in advance of the publishing day.

After fulfilling all the requirements of the above articles, a man could freely publish his newspaper across the colony. Otherwise, he must be prosecuted.

Theoretically speaking, after September 12, 1881, all the newspapers in Cochinchina, even those written in Vietnamese, must be freely published. Unfortunately, the colonial government did not obey the law. They dismissed its legal effect and forced all the Vietnamese newspapers to be approved by another bill issued by the governor-general on December 30, 1898.

(to be continued)

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