A fledgling MTV-style series aimed at young Vietnamese Americans will return to screens two weeks after it was canceled because viewers complained about Ho Chi Minh's photo being used in a segment about the 1999 anti-communist protest in Little Saigon.
The 30-minute English-language cable-television series -- seen in Vietnamese communities from Orange County to San Jose -- was pulled after its Oct. 9 episode.
Ever since a Little Saigon shopkeeper sparked a 53-day protest in 1999 by displaying a picture of the late North Vietnamese leader in his store, there has been a backlash in the community to anything associated with communism.
A planned visit by Vietnamese dignitaries, for example, was canceled earlier this year in the face of protests, and the former prime minister of South Vietnam was sharply criticized in February when he decided to return to Vietnam as a tourist. Many merchants in the community continue to display the flag of the former South Vietnam.
Against that backdrop, the decision to bring back the weekly series marks a rare reversal in this anti-communist community.
"Vietnamese American Xposure," which features youth lifestyles, a talent showcase and cultural diversity, was scrubbed after its second episode was broadcast. Saigon TV officials said they received viewers' complaints about images of Ho and the Vietnamese flag. The footage, shot by CNN and KABC-TV Channel 7, was part of a "Saigon USA" documentary by Lindsey Jang and Robert C. Winn.
The series leased broadcast time from Saigon TV, a Westminster-based studio that in turn leases blocks of time from KXLA-TV Channel 44, a Rancho Palos Verdes-based station that broadcasts throughout the state.
Outraged viewers also protested outside Saigon TV's studios in Little Saigon, a Vietnamese commercial and cultural hub that stretches from Westminster to Garden Grove. It is the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam.
"It was a difficult decision," said Susan Tran, marketing director for Saigon TV. "We don't believe that these images were meant to elicit communism or support communism, but they did have a negative effect."
Many Vietnamese fled after the Communists took South Vietnam in 1975. Many refugees spent weeks at sea in rickety boats, waiting to be rescued. Others said they were beaten, starved and tortured while imprisoned in "reeducation camps." Families were separated, some for decades.
"VAX" was produced by a group of American-born Vietnamese who say it is aimed at the 18- to 35-year-old audience and offers a sense of Vietnamese history and culture to viewers who may have not been to Vietnam.
"VAX" had a contract with Saigon TV to run 12 episodes and now plans to take legal action against Saigon TV for breach of contract, officials said.
KXLA owner Ron Ulloa said he has agreed to lease time directly to "VAX," which will return to the schedule at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays, beginning Nov. 13.
"I'm always concerned about what the public has to say, but I'm for freedom of expression, freedom of speech," Ulloa said. "They're welcome to run any program they choose as long as it doesn't violate FCC rules and regulations."
He said the series is "kinda cool" because it has an MTV flair. "VAX" had withstood earlier criticism because it is broadcast in English, not Vietnamese.
Dean Hata, producer of "VAX," called the decision to cancel the series "ridiculous."
"You see the images, but if you understand English, all we're really doing is bringing up those issues to teach the younger generation the history of the country and honoring what our older generations have gone through," Hata said. "We felt it was something worth talking about. It was quite harmless."
James Fujikawa, co-founder of Asian Media Watchdog, which is based in New York, said Saigon TV made a mistake by pulling the series. He said that he began an immediate e-mail campaign to bring it back. "They should be in a position of nurturing Asian American voices," Fujikawa said. "The biggest part of this is the conflict about the older non-English-speaking generation controlling the voices of younger generations."
"VAX" representatives said they would hold a public forum in Westminster on Thursday to reach out to older Vietnamese who may have misunderstood the program's intent.
The real test may be whether the series can find advertisers to help underwrite it. Under the prior arrangement, Saigon TV sold advertising to support the program.