Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Laotian media remain tightly controlled by an authoritarian, one-party state. Although the constitution provides for press freedom, it also mandates that the primary duty of the local press is to serve the ruling party's interests and policies. Sections of the penal code forbid inciting disorder, slandering the state, distorting state policies, or disseminating information or opinions that weaken the state. The Ministry of Information and Culture issues publication licenses, imposes prepublication censorship, and otherwise regulates media content. The government owns all domestic newspapers and broadcast media and tightly controls their content, which tends to reflect official views. Authorities also control all domestic Internet servers and occasionally monitor e-mail or block antigovernment Web sites. However, access to uncensored foreign broadcasts is largely unrestricted.
Laos has generally remained closed to foreign journalists, as they must apply for special visas and be accompanied by an official escort during their stay in the country. However, an opportunity was provided in November, when the government hosted the tenth summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), allowing an estimated 800 foreign newsmen to join about 200 domestic reporters in covering the first ASEAN summit held on Laotian soil. International observers saw the event as a crucial test for the government in its relations with the media and its policies toward press freedom. Nevertheless, the government barred Time magazine's Asian correspondent, Andrew Perrin, from covering the summit. The barring of Perrin is believed to be tied to his coverage of Hmong ethnic communities in the hills of northern Laos-in September, Perrin had brought to international attention the plight of five young Hmong who were killed in Vientiane's most recent crackdown on rebels in the area. Later on, Radio Vientiane's live broadcast of the summit's final press conference was abruptly cut off the air after Prime Minister Bouneyang Vorachit, who chaired the press conference, was asked by journalists to confirm the release of two political prisoners. Two guides accompanying a Belgian journalist who was arrested in 2003 after reporting on the Hmong were sentenced to lengthy prison terms and remained in jail throughout 2004.