The Laotian media landscape is controlled by the state. The entire press, as well as Laotian television and radio, are subordinate to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. Freedom of the press only exists on paper. The journalists are still severely restricted in their work and sometimes have great difficulties in obtaining information from official bodies. Open reporting on current problems in sensitive areas such as land use rights, illegal deforestation and controversial mega-projects is largely impossible. A media law passed in 2008 has not yet provided journalists with the protection they hoped for and the support they needed for their work. In 2016 the law was even changed. More restrictive requirements added, only content that uncritically depicts government policy is allowed.
In Reporters Without Borders’ freedom of press ranking, Laos ranks 172nd out of 180 in 2020. The international organization Freedom House, which monitors freedom of the press worldwide, among other things, classifies Laos as ” not free ” in terms of press freedom in its 2019 annual report.
The limited and less pluralistic reporting stands in stark contrast to the everyday reality experienced by the people in Laos, so that media users prefer Thai media, which report more openly and critically to a certain extent.
Daily and weekly newspapers
The distribution of print media is limited to the larger cities and is manageable. The target group is predominantly the population living in cities.
- The daily newspapers Paxason, Vientiane Mai and Pathet Lao appear in Lao.
- The English-language daily Vientiane Times is aimed primarily at expats living in Laos.
- The weekly French-language magazine Le Renovateur offers national and international news on a regular basis.
- There are also other press products from the mass organization such as the Lao Women’s Union, the Lao Youth Union, various ministries and associations.
For some time now, a growing variety of privately or company-owned magazines has been observed in the capital, but this does not yet mean a relaxation of state media surveillance. In most cases, the editors are party members who are loyal to the party line or entrepreneurs intertwined with politics.
Selection of magazines:
- Sayo Laos
- Target Laos
- Watthanatham [culture]
- 108 Job
The state television Lao National Television broadcasts its programs, including news in English, on two channels: Lao National Television, LNTV1 and Lao National Television, LNTV3; Lao Star is a private channel.
Technically and in terms of content of higher quality, Thai television is a great competition. Due to the linguistic relationship to Thai, many Laotians regularly use Thai media, especially television, and prefer Thai programs to Laotian. Exceptions are major national events in Laos that are broadcast on television such as the Southeast Asian Games 2009, the 450th anniversary of Vientiane in 2010 and similar events.
A large number of other programs can be received over the Internet, some of them from abroad.
According to commit4fitness, in 1975 Lao National Radio (LNR) began broadcasting with six stations, now there are 43 stations nationwide that broadcast programs in AM and FM via satellite. Some provinces produce their own programs, while the rest of the provinces broadcast mostly material produced in Vientiane. The LNR reaches around 80% of the population of Laos and has managed to secure an audience in the northeastern part of Thailand – Isaan – through a higher proportion of entertainment broadcasts, also outside of Laos.
The latest news is also broadcast in English.
In addition to Lao programs, the LNR also broadcasts programs in the minority languages Khamu and Hmong in the north. A radio station was set up in the north of the country as part of an UNDP project. The radio programs are well received. The aim is to explore the information needs of the local population – above all members of ethnic minorities – and to give them the opportunity to actively participate in the provision of information.
Laos was one of the last countries in Southeast Asia to introduce the Internet in 1997. Since then, the number of Internet users has increased rapidly from 6,000 in 2000 to just over 3 million Internet users in January 2020. Around a third of the population uses the Internet. Compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, however, this is still little. Social networks are particularly popular with the predominantly young population: In 2013 the number of Facebook users rose to 400,000; it is now 3 million users.
In October 2014, the Prime Minister passed a decree (Decree 327) supporting controls modeled on China and Vietnam for “inappropriate information” on social media. The aim is not to block access to social networks. The announcement was related to a plane crash in the south of the country, which the ministry said was “incorrectly” reported.
The only Lao news agency Khaosan Pathet Lao (KPL) publishes a daily news bulletin in Lao, English and French.
Only two international media organizations have an office in Laos: the Vietnamese newspaper Nhân Dân and the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua News Agency.