Freedom of the Press 2011 - Laos
|Publication Date||23 September 2011|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2011 - Laos, 23 September 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e7c84f01b.html [accessed 26 July 2014]|
Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 26
Political Environment: 33
Economic Environment: 26
Total Score: 85
Laos remains one of the world's most repressive countries for media freedom, despite the passage of new laws and increased investment in telecommunications infrastructure in recent years. Article 44 of the 1991 constitution guarantees freedom of the press, and the government has demonstrated a willingness to enact promising legislation related to expression and association. In collaboration with international donors, the country passed a new press law in 2008, but it had little practical effect on conditions for journalists. Under the criminal code, individuals may be jailed for up to one year for reporting news that "weakens the state" or importing a publication that is "contrary to national culture." Defamation and misinformation are criminal offenses, carrying lengthy prison terms and even the possibility of execution. Due to high levels of censorship and self-censorship, legal cases against media personnel are extremely rare.
The country's media remain under the tight control of the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). Media personnel are appointed mostly from within the LPRP, and publications must be approved by the Ministry of Information and Culture. Journalists focus primarily on uncontroversial issues such as economic development projects. The opening of the Lao stock market in 2010 and efforts to join the World Trade Organization have prompted an increase in coverage of and trainings on business reporting. Physical attacks and extralegal intimidation aimed at journalists are rare, given the extensive legal controls already in place. Foreign journalists face significant barriers in establishing a permanent presence in the country, but are generally permitted to enter and travel internally to cover specific stories.
There are around a dozen regularly printed newspapers, all government affiliated. Newspaper circulation figures remain extremely low due to low literacy rates and an insufficient distribution infrastructure outside the capital, Vientiane. Almost all radio and television stations are government run. A few community radio programs have sprung up with the help of international development organizations, covering mostly local-interest stories. Foreign television and radio services, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, broadcast in Laos without disruptions. A number of citizens watch Thai television and radio, and wealthier individuals have access to satellite television. China and Vietnam are providing increasingly large infrastructure investments and telecommunications training, raising concerns that Laos might emulate those countries' media restrictions.
About 7 percent of the population used the internet regularly in 2010, and Lao-language content, though slow to appear, is growing. The state controls all internet-service providers, and there are some reports of sporadic government monitoring and blocking of web activity. However, the government's technical ability to monitor the internet is limited.