Hugh Lunn's Vietnam scoop
Monday 18 March 2019
Hugh Lunn, newly inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame, gave Reuters a scoop 50 years ago. In April 1968 Hugh, doing a night shift on the Singapore desk, was startled by an excited Vietnamese lady who said she had just heard Hanoi radio announcing that Ho Chi Minh was ready to start peace talks with the US. Madame Sipiere, a friend of Jimmy Hahn, Reuters manager for Southeast Asia, had rushed to the Reuters office as soon as she heard the broadcast.
After consulting Reuters Asia editor Clare McDermott, who questioned Madame Sipiere, Hugh sent out a flash. AP and UPI denied the Reuters report and the White House said it had heard nothing to confirm it. More than 20 minutes later the US agencies reported North Vietnam’s willingness to talk peace.
Hanoi radio had broadcast the news in Vietnamese first and only later in French. AP and UPI had been monitoring only the French broadcasts. Reuters later ran this advertising campaign in the US: “You waited 21 minutes to learn that Ho Chi Minh wanted to talk peace… unless you bought the Reuters service.”
When the widow and sons of our former Saigon office manager, Pham Ngoc Dinh, visited London from Australia in 2005 Hugh sent me a copy of his book “Vietnam: A Reporter’s War” with the dedication: “To Ernie Mendoza, whose Reuter stories I still remember: your line ‘his face a mask of blood’ has stayed with me 40 years. Vy and Vu and Huy wanted you to have this book in memory of your friend and mine, Dinh.” I think he was referring to a world title boxing match that I once covered in Rome. ■