The land of the Lao (Pathet Lao) was first mentioned in 1353 as a nation-state entity under Prince Fa Ngum with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Millions of Elephants under the White Umbrella (Lan Xang Hom Khao).
In 1641 the Dutchman Gerrit van Wuysthoff explored the country. His travel impressions were published in Dutch and French and are considered the first European descriptions of the country.
In the 17th century the kingdom of Lan Xang fell into three separate empires due to disputes within the ruling family: Luang Prabang in Northern Laos, Vientiane in Central Laos and Champassak in Southern Laos. In the 18th century these single empires came partly under Siamese and partly under Burmese rule.
In 1867 the French occupation began with the appointment of August Pavies as vice consul. At the Geneva Indochina Conference in 1954, Laos became independent and all foreign troops had to leave the country.
In the 1940s, under the leadership of Kaysone Phomvihane, the Laotian liberation movement Pathet Lao, a forerunner of the Laotian People’s Revolutionary Party (LRVP), emerged. On December 2, 1975, the Pathet Lao took power and the “Lao People’s Democratic Republic” came into being. This was preceded by a period of French colonisation, a civil war with three factions in the 1960s and 1970s and the subsequent “Secret War”. The formal socialist orientation of the country, mixed with the strong centuries-old Buddhist character and partly animistic rituals, represents an ideological background that is not easy to grasp. Laos is between Marx and Money in the process of nation building.
With the break of almost six centuries of the kingdom into a socialist state, the confrontation with one’s own history in Laos will probably continue to be exciting, changeful and ambivalent in the future.
The Laotian media landscape is controlled by the state. The entire press as well as Lao television and radio are under the control of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. Freedom of the press exists only on paper. 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 logging and controversial megaprojects is largely impossible. A media law passed in 2008 did not offer journalists the protection and support they had hoped for. In 2016, the law was even extended to include more restrictive provisions, and only content that does not criticise government policy is allowed.
In the rankings for freedom of the press by Reporters Without Borders, Laos will continue to occupy 170th place out of 180 in 2018 and thus remain at the same level as in the previous year. Freedom House, an international organization that monitors freedom of the press worldwide, classifies Laos as “not free” in terms of freedom of the press in 2017. This is not a positive development compared to 2015.
The limited and less pluralistic reporting stands in stark contrast to the everyday reality of the people in Laos, so that media users prefer Thai media, which to a certain extent report more openly and critically.
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 the cities.
- The daily newspapers Paxason, Vientiane Mai and Pathet Lao are published in Lao.
- The English-language daily Vientiane Times is aimed primarily at expats living in Laos.
- The French-language weekly magazine Le Renovateur regularly publishes national and international news.
- In addition, there are 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, there has been an incipient diversity of privately and corporately owned magazines in the capital, but this has not yet resulted in a relaxation of state media monitoring. In most cases, the editors are party members loyal to the line or entrepreneurs intertwined with politics.
Selection of magazines:
- Sayo Laos
- Target Laos
- Watthanatham [Culture]
The state television Lao National Television broadcasts its program, including news in English on two channels: Lao National Television, LNTV1 and Lao National Television, LNTV3; Lao Star is a private channel.
Thai television is a major competitor in terms of technology and content of higher quality. Due to the linguistic similarity to Thai, many Laotians therefore regularly use Thai media, especially television, and prefer Thai programmes to Laotian ones. Exceptions are major national events in Laos, which are broadcast on television such as the Southeast Asian Games 2009, the 450th anniversary of Vientiane 2010 and similar events. A large number of other programmes can be received via the Internet, some of which come from abroad.
Lao National Radio (LNR) began broadcasting in 1975 with six stations, and now there are 43 stations nationwide broadcasting AM and FM via satellite. Some provinces produce their own programmes, while the remaining provinces mainly broadcast material produced in Vientiane. The LNR reaches about 80% of the population of Laos and has managed to secure an audience in the northeastern part of Thailand – the Isaan – through a higher proportion of entertainment programmes, also outside Laos. Current news is also broadcast in English.
The LNR also broadcasts programmes in the minority languages Khamu and Hmong in addition to Lao programmes in the north. As part of a UNDP project, a radio station was set up in the north of the country. The radio programmes are well received. The aim is to explore the information needs of the local population – especially 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. The number of Internet users has risen rapidly since then from 6,000 in 2000 to 2.4 million in December 2017. About one third of the population uses the Internet. Compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, however, this is still little. Social networks are particularly popular among the predominantly young population: in 2013, the number of Facebook users rose to 400,000; it now stands at 2.2 million users (December 2017).
In October 2014, the prime minister passed a decree (Decree 327) supporting control measures based on the model of China and Vietnam for “inappropriate information” in 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, according to the ministry, was “incorrectly” reported.
The only Laotian news agency Khaosan Pathet Lao (KPL) publishes a daily news bulletin in Laotian, English and French. Only two international media organisations have an office in Laos: the Vietnamese newspaper Nhân Dân and the Chinese state news agency Xinhua News Agency.