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)
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Press freedom in Laos is highly restricted. In September 2014, the government approved a prohibitive new cybercrime law.
Article 44 of the 1991 constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but in practice the government controls nearly all print and broadcast news. Under the criminal code, individuals can be jailed for reporting news that “weakens the state,” or for importing a publication that is “contrary to national culture.” Defamation and misinformation are criminal offenses, carrying lengthy prison terms and even the possibility of execution. However, due to high levels of official censorship and self-censorship, legal cases against journalists are rare.
In September 2014, Laos’s government signed a new law introducing criminal penalties for publishing to the internet false information about the government, or information meant to discredit it. Internet service providers can also face penalties for permitting internet users to publish such information. The law additionally requires individuals to register on social media sites with their full names, making it difficult for people in Laos to share news articles or other information anonymously.
There is no law mandating access to official information, and in practice, the authorities restrict media access to information sources.
The country’s media remain under the tight control of the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). Media personnel are appointed mostly from within the LPRP, and publications must be approved by the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism (MICT). Officials provide content guidelines for newspapers. Postpublication monitoring of content is routine, and outlets can be penalized for covering issues that fall outside the guidelines. As a result, journalists write primarily about anodyne topics, and the vast majority practice self-censorship. Meanwhile, Laos’s telecommunications minister warned in July 2014 that Facebook users who post articles or other content that disrupts “social order” or threatens security in the country would see their accounts blocked. However, the government’s technical ability to monitor internet usage is limited. Press releases on noncontroversial activities by international organizations and foreign missions are usually published with minimal edits.
Pervasive censorship and self-censorship mean that physical attacks and extralegal intimidation aimed at journalists are rare. Detentions in Laos occur with little public information, so it is impossible to tell how many journalists might be in jail in the country, although the advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) does not count any reporters jailed in Laos. Foreign journalists are usually permitted to enter Laos and travel to cover specific stories, but face significant barriers in establishing a permanent presence there.
There are around 24 regularly printed newspapers, all government affiliated. Privately owned magazines have emerged in recent years to cover general interest, health, and other nonpolitical issues. Newspaper and other print media circulation figures remain small due to low literacy rates and an insufficient distribution infrastructure outside the capital, Vientiane. Most of Laos’s roughly 30 television stations and 44 radio stations are government-run, though companies are increasingly permitted to buy airtime and run privately produced content. A number of citizens access Thai television and radio, and wealthier individuals have access to cable and satellite television. A few community radio programs, covering local interest stories along with health and social issues, have sprung up with the help of international development organizations. Foreign television and radio services, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, broadcast in Laos without disruption. Internet penetration rose to just over 14 percent of the population in 2014, and the number of Facebook accounts has reportedly grown from 60,000 in 2011 to over 500,000 in 2014. The government is concerned that the youth population is increasingly using social media to discuss sensitive political and social issues. Nevertheless, the government is eager to boost Laos’s information and communication technology capabilities, and in March 2014 Laos’s first state-funded nationwide underground fiber optic network was completed.