Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 27 (of 30)
Political Environment: 33 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 26 (of 30)
Total Score: 86 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.

  • Article 6 of the 1991 constitution guarantees press freedom and civil liberties, but only in theory, as the country's media remain under the tight control of the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and the judiciary lacks the independence to uphold citizen's rights.

  • In August 2008, Laos's rubber-stamp National Assembly approved its first media law. While it contained some promising provisions, such as a vague right to access public information, the legislation as a whole failed to create a legal basis for free expression. Instead it served to institutionalize the ruling party's preexisting informal management and licensing regulation of the media sector.

  • The authorities allow little departure from the party line in the media, even on issues such as exposing corruption. The degree of editorial direction was especially evident during 2008, in foreign-language as well as Lao-language publications. In the English-language Vientiane Times, coverage of the repatriation of ethnic Hmong refugees from Thailand to their native Laos from February to May included only reporting on those who allegedly returned voluntarily, entirely disregarding earlier rounds of forcible deportation.

  • In another instance of editorial control, a romantic Thai movie being filmed in the country had its script reviewed by the Ministry of Information and Culture. At least one ministry official was present on the set every day of the shooting, and filmmakers removed certain scenes (including references to communism) from the version dubbed into Lao.

  • To date, there are no international media agencies in Laos. Foreign journalists must apply for a special visa to enter the country and are accompanied by official escorts throughout their stay. The new media law contains provisions for foreign media to set up bureaus, but they had yet to be implemented by year's end.

  • Under the criminal code, individuals may be jailed for up to one year for reporting news that "weakens the state" or for transporting into the country a publication that is "contrary to national culture." There were no reports of new incarcerations during the year.

  • The government owns all newspapers and broadcast media. The media's official role is to link the people to the party, deliver party policy messages, and disseminate political ideology.

  • No effort was made to block television and radio broadcasts from abroad. A large number of citizens watch Thai television and radio, and wealthier individuals have satellite access.

  • Language barriers and high monthly connection fees limit regular internet use to only 1.5 percent of the population. All internet service providers are controlled by the state, enabling the government to monitor communications and regularly block access to websites operated by Hmong groups abroad.

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