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)
Media remained tightly controlled by the authoritarian, one-party state in 2007. 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 country’s diverse ethnic groups to support the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. 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.”
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 and members of the Lao Journalists’ Association, presided over by the minister of information and culture. Journalists receive salaries from 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. Two Laotian nationals, Thao Moua and Pa Phue Khang, are serving 12 and 20 years in prison, respectively, for attempting to assist foreign journalists reporting on the Lao-Hmong in 2003. 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 2007.
The government owns all newspapers and broadcast media, though it has permitted several privately owned periodicals on nonpolitical topics such as business and trade. Little progress was made during 2007 on a draft law that would allow more significant development of private media, and according to Reporters Sans Frontieres, the authorities sought to control a new private English-language newspaper that journalists and investors attempted to launch in 2007. 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. According to the U.S. State Department, despite close government control over domestic media, no effort was made to block television and radio broadcasts from abroad. A large number of citizens regularly watch Thai television, access international stations via satellite, or listen to Thai radio, which includes news from international sources. 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–$400, compared with the average monthly salary of US$20–$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, and citizen users are required to register with the authorities. The government also regularly blocks access to websites operated by Hmong groups abroad.