Compliance and Serious Organised Crime: News framing of the enforcement of laws against the illegal trade in rhino horn in the Vietnamese press

Mr Michael Smith1

1Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia

One of the challenges for wildlife conservation is that governments don’t treat the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) seriously. To provoke a stronger enforcement response, elite actors in international IWT conferences have been promoting a definition of IWT as a serious organized crime rather just a conservation issue. Vietnam is such a country that has been accused of inadequately enforcing laws against IWT in general and the illegal trade in rhino horn in specific. However, Vietnam’s record with busting rhino horn smuggling syndicates has been improving. The change seems to be in response to pressure on Vietnam, as the key market that is fueling the rhino poaching crisis in Africa, to comply with, rather than pay lip service to, its international commitments to fight IWT as a serious organized crime. This paper explores how Vietnamese newspaper journalists framed the enforcement of laws against illegal trade in rhino horn from 2016 to 2020. A framing analysis was carried out on 65 Vietnamese news articles about the issue including accompanying images. Before the analysis could be done, the articles, which were from a popular state-run Vietnamese language newspaper, were translated into English. The findings show that the articles presented the reader with two key frames, firstly that the illegal trade in rhino horn is a serious organized crime and secondly that the Vietnamese authorities were complying with their laws and international commitments. The Serious Organised Crime frame and Compliance frame were both supported by numerous sub-frames that emphasized key aspects of the fight against the trade. For example, the journalists emphasised the evil nature of the criminal syndicates, the sophisticated concealment methods they used to smuggle rhino horn, the cleverness and dedication of officers who uncovered the crimes and the way that local enforcement agencies coordinated. The findings suggest that the Vietnamese state-run media adopted or modified some aspects of these frames that were promoted by elite actors and excluded other aspects.


Michael Scott Smith is a PhD researcher in illegal wildlife trade news framing at Griffith. A freelance environmental reporter, he has reported for National Geographic and Mongabay on the illegal trade in rhino horn in Vietnam and was a finalist in the Queensland Clarion awards for investigative reporting on rhino poaching in South Africa. He has authored a chapter on framing of the rhino horn trade in a Routledge book, Communicating Endangered Species: Extinction, News and Public Policy. He earned an MJ at University of Queensland and MAR at Griffith for researching Vietnamese ENGO rhino horn demand reduction campaigns.


Aug 26 2021


8:00 am - 6:00 pm