2012 Predators of Press Freedom: Laos - Choummaly Sayasone, President

Choumally Sayasone maintains control over all national media, preventing any objective and independent information from reaching the public. Only a few non-political publications are exempt.

Sayasone, the former defence minister, was re-appointed by the National Assembly on 15 June 2011 as president of the Lao People's Democratic Republic. He was also retained as leader of the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party, whose doctrine assigns journalists and media the task of promoting national development – that is, of transmitting party and government policy.

Journalists, who are in effect functionaries of the information and culture ministry, are required to echo the official wire service, Khaosan Pathet Lao (Lao News Agency) when they write of the chief of state, who, along with the top party leaders, is a constant presence on the front pages of all publications. The ban on criticism also applies to coverage of friendly countries, such as North Korea, Vietnam and Burma.

At the end of January 2012, the information ministry cancelled the only call-in program that allowed members of the public to speak out on the country's economic and social problems. "Talk of the News" on Lao National Radio had been hosted by Ounkeo Souksavan. Ironically, one week after the program was ended, the ruling party's propaganda and training committee announced that it favoured increased use of the media to help educate the public.

Sayasone is hostile to all information and debate concerning the Hmong minority, and religious liberty in general, and opposes human rights and individual freedoms that could lead the country into "chaos and anarchy."

That was Laos' official position in February 2012, in a message on the duties and responsibilities of member states of ASEAN, as countries in the region were formulating a declaration of human rights. Laos declared that "national security, public order and morality" had a higher priority than human rights.


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