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MALCOLM W. BROWNE:
Saigon AP Bureau Handbook


Page 11 of 22 Back  Main  Next


IX. COMMUNICATIONS

The AP Saigon bureau sends most of its stories either by press cable to Tokyo or by its daily radioteletype cast to Tokyo We have a half-hour cast (good for up to 1,800 words) every day but Sunday. The cast must be filed by about 4 p.m. to give the censors time to read it over. It starts moving at 5:15 p.m.

The Saigon cable office (PTT) is open 24 hours a day every day.

The AP has a cable account, and AP STAFFERS can be issued filing cards by the PTT so they may sign and file their own cables without pre-payment. Cables should be sent only on the forms provided in the AP office. No credit cards from commercial communications firms (RCA, Cable & Wireless Ltd., etc.) are honored in Viet Nam.

All communications in Viet Nam are controlled and operated by the government. All cables (including service cables) and casts are monitored by several censorship units. While casts and cables have been allowed to pass without delay in recent months, the practice of delaying or blocking controversial stories might be resumed at any time.

Urgent-rate cables take one to three hours reaching Tokyo. Normal press-rate cables take up to five hours.

Incoming cables are delivered to the AP office (or Browne's apartment upstairs) at all hours, but delays late at night are frequent. Someone must always be on hand to sign for a cable or it will not be delivered.

There are three basic telephone systems in Viet Nam, all of which can be used from the telephone in the AP office.

The first is the government-operated civilian system. All private and commercial numbers are on it (but because of very high telephone rates, relatively few Saigon residents have phones).

As yet, there are no telephone booths or public telephones in Saigon.

Most Saigon telephone numbers have five digits and can be dialed directly. The PTT phone book (in Vietnamese only) cross lists all numbers by numerical order, by the name of subscriber, alphabetically, and by the address of the subscriber.

Some numbers have only four digits (the first of which is "4".) To get them, dial "4," then tell the operator (in Vietnamese or French) the remaining three digits of the number.

It is theoretically possible to make radiotelephone calls using the PTT system to about ten cities in South Viet Nam. In practice, these circuits are usually very bad.

The Vietnamese military establishment operates a switchboard of its own, which includes many American military phone numbers, numbers for officials of the International Control Commission, and some others.

To get the Vietnamese military switchboard operator, dial 20011, 24675, or 20731. When the operator answers (in Vietnamese) tell him the number you want (in English, Vietnamese or French). After a pause, he will ask you (in very poor English) the number of your telephone. Tell him. If you are calling from the AP, it is 25536. Be patient and try to keep your temper.

The MACV (U.S. Military Assistance Command) information office has a PTT number of its own, which can be dialed directly. It is 25565. During off hours, you must reach the officers who work their at their billets, and this has to be done through the Vietnamese military switchboard.

The third major communications channel is a system of single-sideband radiotelephone connections between U.S. installations in most of the important capitals of South Viet Nam's provinces, and one in Thailand (Ubon).

To use this system, dial 21273 or 21266 to get "Tiger" (who is a U.S. military operator). Tell him the code name of whatever town you want to call (compete list of code names at the AP office) such as "Bluebird" for My Tho, "Llama" for Pleiku, and so on. Some code names can be reached only by routing through others, but the diagram for this is in the office.

Connections through this network are extremely clear, except at certain hours to some points in the delta. The best time to call My Tho ("Bluebird") or Soc Tang ("Lady") is after dark.

Try to give the operator at the other end the exact number of the phone you're trying to reach (intelligence sections of many U.S. detachments have the phone number "212," for example).

If you're trying to get military information, try to get the duty officer, or the G-2 (intelligence) or the G-3 (operations).

Domestic cables are slow, but sometimes the only way to get information out of remote towns. Always pre-pay domestic cables (few rural ITT offices have ever heard of filing cards), and, like international cables, address them to ASSOCIATED SAIGON.

The government radio station (formerly the French-owned company Televietnam) handles all overseas telephone calls, voice on weekends or holidays, unless special arrangements are made in advance. Voice or radiophoto circuits to Tokyo are clear only in the mid-morning; to Paris, only in late afternoon.

In the past, emergency copy has been telephoned or sent by voice cast from the radio station (for example, when the Saigon PTT was under siege by rebel paratroops on Nov. 11, 1961). But since the radio station now is entirely government controlled and owned, this practice may be impossible now.

The AP has no radio equipment of its own in Saigon.

The U.S. Information Service and certain MACV installations have their own radioteletype equipment. Under a private subscriber agreement, USIS currently monitors the incoming AP report, and we receive a copy from USIS several times a day.

It might prove possible in an emergency to file news outward on the U.S. government circuits, although possibly only on a pool basis. U.S. officials never have firmly committed themselves on the point.

Certain other foreign embassies (notably the Korean) maintain their own radio channels, which might conceivably be used in emergencies.


Courtesy Malcolm W. Browne.

Photo: Horst Faas, Mal Browne and Peter Arnett in the Saigon AP office. Photo credit: Peter Arnett collection Reporter's Notebook
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