‘The loudspeakers represent the power of the government. If we let them go, we might lose that.’
Authorities in Hanoi have decided to keep the city’s loudspeakers, which date back four decades to the war, despite an overwhelming public vote in favor of scrapping them.
While most people consider the loudspeakers too noisy and no longer necessary in the age of the internet, the city insists that the loa phuong can still be used to issue warnings about natural disasters or to deliver messages from authorities to the public.
Accordingly, Hanoi is planning a project to reorganize and improve the quality of its loudspeaker system, a task which municipal authorities assigned to the local Department of Information and Communications at a recent meeting.
The project will keep the number of loudspeakers in district areas to a minimum, and each precinct will only retain from 5 to 10 loudspeakers in appropriate areas. The number of loudspeakers in remote wards and communes will remain the same.
In addition, the city will relocate loudspeakers from near schools, hospitals, diplomatic agencies, senior citizen centers, expatriate residences and high-rise buildings. The schedule and length of the announcements as well as their content will also be changed.
In February, Hanoi organized a public survey on the plan to scrap the loudspeakers through the city’s official website. The results showed that about 90 percent of respondents thought that the system should be abolished, while the same percentage considered the loudspeakers no longer useful.
The results also showed that only just over 4 percent use the speakers as reliable sources of information, compared to 45 percent who use the internet, 10 percent who read newspapers and nearly 7 percent who listen to the radio.
Although the Department of Information and Communications also plans to collect opinions from some residential areas and to consult experts, only the results of the public poll have been published so far.
In January, Chairman of Hanoi’s People’s Committee Nguyen Duc Chung asked local authorities from all the city’s wards – both metropolitan and suburban – to determine whether the loa phuong are still relevant to residents’ daily lives. He said the use of loudspeakers may have become obsolete in the face of modern telecommunications developments.
“If the loudspeakers are no longer effective, then I strongly suggest we scrap them. They have fulfilled their mission,” said Chung. “They’re expensive. Each ward spends a few hundred million VND each year [to maintain the system]. The content quality is also very poor.”
However, Major General Bach Thanh Dinh, deputy director of Hanoi Police, said in a recent meeting between municipal leaders that the loudspeaker system should be kept for the Communist Party and the State to communicate directly with the public.
“The loudspeakers represent the power of the government and connect the people and the Party. If we let them go, we might lose that,” said Dinh.
Hanoi’s loudspeakers date back to the 1960s and 1970s when they delivered air raid warnings during the war with the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government.
Today they are used to deliver daily neighborhood announcements about local meetings, health updates, sanitation and other public issues. The same system is used in many parts of rural Vietnam.
But many Hanoians believe the iconic method of mass communication is no longer necessary and too noisy, and some say the speakers belong in museums now.