Freedom of the Press
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)
Media remained tightly controlled by the authoritarian, one-party state in 2006. Article 6 of the 1991 constitution guarantees press freedom and civil liberties, but only in theory. Few citizens actually feel free to exercise these rights because there are no legal safeguards for voicing dissent in public. Article 7 requires the mass media, particularly Lao-language papers such as Vientiane Mai and Pasason and the national news agency, Khaosan Pathet Lao, to “unite and mobilize” the diverse ethnic groups to support the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The criminal code provides for up to one year in prison for those found to be reporting on news that weakens the state.
Although central censorship is no longer imposed directly on the press, the Ministry of Information and Culture continues to oversee media coverage and academic publishing, and self-censorship is commonplace. Editors are government appointees assigned to ensure that media function as links between the party and the people. All editors are members of the Lao Journalists Association, presided over by the minister of information and culture. Thus, journalists whose salaries are paid by the government are guided by the editors’ promulgation of the media as an instrument of the government. The media’s role is to link the people to the party, deliver party policy messages, and disseminate political ideology. Military abuses against the Lao-Hmong people, as well as arrests of Christians for practicing their faith, go unreported in the Lao-language papers. 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. Nonetheless, there were no reports of physical attacks on the media in 2006.
The majority of print and electronic media are state owned. The French weekly Le Renovateur and the English daily Vientiane Times, which are subsidized by the Ministry of Information and Culture, occasionally report on social and economic problems, framing their content primarily to attract tourists, expatriates, and investors to the country. Thai television stations can be accessed in border areas. Tourism has led to the proliferation of internet kiosks with unrestricted access to foreign news sites. However, language barriers and high monthly connection fees (approximately US$300–US$400 compared with the average monthly salary of US$20–US$30) limit regular internet use to only 0.4 percent of the population or exclusively wealthy individuals, expatriates, and business organizations. Internet service providers must submit quarterly reports to the government to facilitate monitoring.