The government plays a major role in both regulating and operating the media. While all daily newspaper are owned by the government, it allows the private sector to publish some magazines and also to enter into joint-ventures with government radio and television in broadcasting. Recently with the help of UNESCO and UNDP, the government has allowed the setting up of community radio at district village level.
The country’s first Media Law (English language version of the Media Law is currently not available) was approved by the Lao National Assembly in July 2008. It consists of ten chapters, containing some 64 articles, which, among other things, determines the roles, principles, responsibilities, duties and activities of foreign as well as domestic media. It also lays down the requirement and rules regarding the establishment of offices of the foreign media in Laos and by Lao media in foreign countries.
The Media Law provides the legal instruments for the State and ruling party to more effectively guide and manage the media. However, the impact of this law on media workers is yet to be estimated. Daniel Hirschler, media trainer and country coordinator (Laos) of DW-AKADEMIE/ Deutsche Welle Germany, said that a Media Law is required to be complemented with legal protection for journalists.
There are over 100,000 Internet users in the country according an ITU estimate in March 2008. Cyber cafes are freely available in the country, especially in cities and towns, and there are 6 Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the country. The use of the Internet was officially approved in 1997 by Decree 166/PM of the Prime Minister and covers the organisation of a network and implementation, and use and control of the Internet system. This decree was followed in the same year by three other regulations – Provisions 2015/CTCP of the Ministry of Communications, Transport, Post and Construction regarding the organisation of the Internet network to conduct the information and data service businesses and for the use of the Internet system, focus on the rights and duties of ISPs, and procedures for licensing them. A law to handle cyber crime and on ways to conduct surveillance on hackers and such attacks is in the drafting stage.
Libel and Defamation
Libel and defamation is not covered under the media law. However, the people and the media are not allowed to defame another individual or organisation. But so far, no one has been jailed for defamation. Journalists however are free to defame (criticise) people if they have been officially condemned.
The media remains tightly controlled by the one-party state. It is stipulated in Article 44 of the Constitution of the Lao PDR: “Lao citizens have the right and freedom of speech, press and assembly; and have the right to set up associations and to stage demonstrations which are not contrary to the laws”. But, there are no legal safeguards for voicing dissent in public; as a result, few citizens feel free to exercise these rights. Article 7 requires the mass media, particularly Lao-language papers such as and and the national news agency, , to “unite and mobilize” the 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 on news that “weakens the state” or for transporting into the country a publication “contrary to national culture”. “The main role of Laos Media is to serve the peoples’ interest and to safeguard and develop the country. Basically it is to serve all the needs of the Laos people and to reduce poverty. As such, the mass media should be from the people, for the people, to serve the people”, says Pineprathana Phanthamaly, deputy director general of the Mass Media Department. In a one-party system like Laos, Pineprathana argues that the government is the representative of the people, so there is no contradiction between government, people and political party. “Media belongs to the government, but the government is from the people. So the mass media should inform, educate and entertain the people”.
A license is required if an individual wants to set up a website through the Ministry of Information. A license is also required to run a newspaper or a magazine. There is no licensing available for private broadcast.
Radio broadcasting began in Laos in 1939 during French colonial rule and television was started fairly late, in 1983. All radio stations in Laos are owned by the government, but not fully funded. Since they are allowed to broadcast advertising, about a third of the radio stations’ budget is earned by advertising revenue. Lao National Radio broadcasts on two AM frequencies, one SW and two FM frequencies. The national programmes are also transmitted by satellite, and their programmes are relayed by over 30 district level stations of the national network across the country. There are three national television channels, with Lao National Television (LNTV) beaming their programmes by satellite so that regional television stations could replay them. Many people in border regions watch Thai television, which sometimes is more popular than the local Lao television. There are no laws to restrict such viewing and Laotians could go across the border freely and buy satellite and other receiving devices and bring it back to the country. In 2002, the Ministry of Information and Culture entered into a joint venture with a Chinese cable TV company to establish Lao Cable TV, which offers a smorgasbord of 30 channels including BBC and CNN. Since land-locked Laos shares the border with 5 other countries, it is difficult to stop people going across the border and bringing receivers to tune to foreign television and radio argues Pineprathana. “People may be watching or listening to BBC, CNN and so on, but they also listen to the Lao news at the respective timings ( 7.00 am, 12 noon and 7.00 pm) to check the accuracy and preciseness of the information” he says. “People themselves have to balance the information they receive .. they have to make judgements on what is wrong and what is right”.Back to top