As of April 7, 2020, for the first time in one month, Vietnam has had no new positive case of covid-19 for three consecutive mornings. It is not early to forecast Vietnam’s success in entirely controlling the covid-19 pandemic at this time when 91 recoveries out of 241 positive cases and no death cases have been confirmed. Along with the efforts of the whole country in many fields, communication plays a crucial role in contributing to the fight against the covid-19 pandemic.
A theoretical and practical look at communication practices of the Vietnamese public and private sectors will help one to understand how Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model works to create a mutual understanding and benefits between these organizations and the public in the outbreak.
Grunig and Hunt (1984)1 indicated that: “In the two-way symmetric model, finally, practitioners serve as mediators between organizations and their publics. Their goal is mutual understanding between organizations and their publics.” In comparison with two-way asymmetric model, “two-way symmetric model, in contrast, consists more of a dialogue than a monologue.”
The two-way symmetrical model focuses on the mutual give-and-take, mutual respect to achieve mutual understanding and mutual benefits between the organizations and the public. The model emphasizes the willingness of both sides to make significant adjustments.
“An organization that uses the two-way symmetrical model, in contrast, uses research and dialogue to manage conflict, improve understanding, and build relationships with publics. With the symmetrical model, both the organization and publics can be persuaded; both may change their behavior.” (Grunig and Dozier, 1992)2
From the beginning of the pandemic, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has issued a certain number of citizen-based and humane policies and has placed public health and public interests above all else. The Vietnamese Government’s slogan “No one left behind” has become the motto of the fight against the pandemic. In order to control the pandemic, besides such radical measures as closing schools, securing their borders, the Prime Minister has ordered strict nationwide social distancing rules, including restricting people from leaving their homes and banning gatherings of more than two people in public since April 1, 2020. These policies have received high consensus among the people, and many have become volunteers to disseminate these rules in society. According to the Daily Research, Vietnamese people have the most confidence out of 45 countries in their Government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic.3
Public sectors, including the State administrative agencies from the Central level to the provincial level, have also been highly responsible in providing the latest, accurate, comprehensive, and diverse information about the covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam. The Ministry of Health is a typical agency in applying the two-way symmetrical model in its communication practices. Besides providing updated information on disease prevention and epidemic updates, the Ministry of Health has launched different channels such as websites, fan pages, and apps on different platforms to provide official information to the public. The transparency in information, particularly in the number of positive cases, becomes essential to create people’s confidence in the Ministry.
A variety of communication products are generated to target the people, including clips on Youtube and TikTok. At the order of the Health Ministry, “‘Ghen Co Vy’, a Vietnamese song and its accompanying dance about the necessity of washing hands during the novel coronavirus outbreak, has gone viral on the internet and received much attention from the community and international organizations” 4 after it was featured on HBO’s American comedic news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
On February 10, 2020, Facebook was filled with images of a Vietnam Airlines’ special flight whereby “The flight crew and ground units successfully completed their tasks to bring Chinese citizens and Vietnamese citizens back home…”.5 Many compliments and congratulatory messages by the online community were sent to the crew.
Along with the public sector, the private sector has also shown corporate social responsibilities or contributions and donations to help fight the pandemic. After the call of the Prime Minister on March 17, big corporations like the Vingroup have donated more than one hundred billion đồng to the Health Ministry. Besides, there are many other enterprises such as TH True Milk and Grab Vietnam, which has joined hands with the Government to combat the novel coronavirus.
To conclude, two-way symmetrical communication helps public and private sectors gain trust, enhance reputation, build mutual understanding, and mutual benefits between the organizations and the public. Transparent information and citizen-based policies are vital for decision-makers to gain significant achievements in the fight against covid-19. These two-way communication practices can mark a significant step forward in the Vietnamese communication industry in the future.
*** The author is a Lecturer in Communication Management and the Acting Dean of Public Relations and Advertising Faculty at Academy of Journalism and Communication, Vietnam
1. James E. Grunig and Todd Hunt (1984), Managing Public Relations, CBS College Publishing, New York, pp. 22-23
2. James E. Grunig and David M. Dozier (1992), Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management, L. Erlbaum Associates, New York, p.39.
3. Việt Nam News, Vietnamese confident in Government’s response to covid-19: international survey, posted on March 31, 2020, Retrieved on March 6, 2020, at the link https://vietnamnews.vn/society/654401/vietnamese-confident-in-governments-response-to-covid-19-international-survey.html
4. Nhan Dan, Vietnam’s handwashing dance goes viral amidst worldwide coronavirus outbreak, Retrieved on March 6, 2020, at the link https://en.nhandan.org.vn/society/item/8463602-vietnam%E2%80%99s-handwashing-dance-goes-viral-amidst-worldwide-coronavirus-outbreak.html
5. Vietnam Airlines, Vietnam Airlines flight crew conducting flight to Wuhan receives a certificate of Merit from Prime Minister, Retrieved from April 7, 2020, at the link https://www.vietnamairlines.com/vn/en/vietnam-airlines/press-room/news/2020/0213-EN-Vietnam-Airlines-Flight-Crew-Conducting-Flight-to-Wuhan-Receive-Certificate