Lawmakers in Laos have approved an amendment to the country’s media law that further tightens the government’s control of reporters, ensuing that they disseminate the policies of the ruling communist party in a country where press freedom is already nonexistent.
Members of parliament on Nov. 4 debated and approved the draft amendment to the Media Law of 2008 based on a change proposed by the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.
“The media law has been amended to ensure that the media implements their duties and mission to be a sharp voice of the [ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary] Party and the people in order to propagate the guidelines and directions, and laws and social-economic development plans of the state,” said information minister Bosengkham Vongdara at the National Assembly.
“In the meantime, it will improve the principles and rules for controlling the media in accordance with the directions and policy of the party and the rule of law in order to ensure the freedom of our media as well as the people,” he said.
A Vientiane resident, who declined to be named, told RFA’s Lao Service on Thursday that the amendment to the media law will not benefit Lao citizens.
“We understand all media are controlled by the government,” he said. “Even though there are private media, the contents of the news are determined by the government. No matter how the media law is amended, it will not serve the people and society at large.”
“People know that the local media cannot report the facts completely and cannot properly fulfill their roles,” he said. “They they do not have any expectations for the mainstream media because of heavy censorship, so they prefer to use social media instead.”
A Lao community-education developer who requested anonymity told RFA that he would like the Lao media to present the news with more facts and conduct investigative reports rather than issue stories about what policymakers dictate.
"[But] the amended draft of the law is not open for public comments as to which articles should be amended to comply with international conventions on media and freedom of speech,” he said.
Ninety-three of 103 lawmakers approved the amendment with nine rejections and one abstention, according to a report in the Vientiane Times.
Some lawmakers want the drafting subcommittee to further change certain points to more clearly define individuals and legal groups that are authorized to participate in media activities, cap the proportion of funds provided by foreigners to Lao media outlets at 20 percent, and ensure that the media provide information “in a more scientific way,” the article said.
‘Absolute control of media’
Laos constantly scores among the lowest rungs in the annual press freedom indexes issued by Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based international nongovernmental organization that defends freedom of information and press. The country ranked 173 out of 180 nations in this year’s report, dropping two places from its position at 171 in 2015.
“The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) exercises absolute control over the media,” the report said.
The Lao government issued a decree in September 2014 prohibiting online criticism of itself and the ruling party as well as banning content that encourages terrorism and social disorder, pornography, photos that contradict Lao traditions and culture, and images that violate intellectual property rights. Netizens or internet service providers that violate the law can be fined or face criminal charges.
“The adoption in late 2014 of a decree providing for jail sentences for internet users who criticize the government and the Marxist-Leninist LPRP threatens the boom in online news and information platforms,” the Reporters Without Borders report said.