Laotian journalists are optimistic that a prime ministerial decree being drafted to interpret the Media Law in detail will assist their work and help them to access information in a timely manner.
The National Assembly approved the Media Law in 2008, aiming to enhance the role of the media and improve the quality of media in Laos, while upholding the right to press freedom for the benefit of the public.
Article 44 of Laos’ Constitution says Lao citizens have the right to freedom of speech, press and assembly, and the right to set up associations and stage demonstrations that do not contravene the country’s laws. But journalists are still waiting for the Media Law to be enforced.
Media officials expect to submit the final version of the draft decree to the government for consideration in the hope it will be approved this year, the director-general of the Media Department at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Pinpratthana Phanthamaly, told the Vientiane Times yesterday.
“Technical officials from the relevant organisations are discussing some points and, once consensus is reached, we will submit the draft decree to the government,” he said.
Pinpratthana said parts of the law are already in effect because some of content did not require clarification.
However, he said there are several points written originally in too general a way. The decree is required to elucidate these points so they are interpreted accurately and the law is fully and correctly implemented.
Despite the Media Law stating in Article 20 that media representatives have right of access to information, many reporters say they are sometimes not given information in a timely manner. In some cases officials give a ‘no comment’ answer to questions when explanations are sought.
“In my experience, sometimes when I ask for information or comments from a particular sector or official, they ask me to submit an official letter from the editorial board. But that’s useless because it takes days, sometimes even a week, to process,” said a reporter, Somxai Sengdara.
“It’s all right to submit a letter if we want an in-depth or investigative interview, but most of the time we just need a single statistic or a short simple comment for the story we’re writing. It is impractical to have to go through such a time-consuming procedure because we won't get the answer before we go to print that day.”
On National Media and Printing Day in August last year, when the Vientiane Times published a “Streetwise” column on this topic, many reporters admitted they faced difficulty in accessing information.
They said many officials failed to give full cooperation, even though the Media Law requires them to.
“Getting access to sources is difficult when reporters want to interview them or need comments on emerging issues or shortcomings within their area of responsibility,” said Vilayvone Bouchaleurnphone, a reporter with Lao National Television.
Deputy editor of Patthana Souphasavanh Sisanamoungkhoune said journalists continue to face many challenges as people still don’t realise the important role played by the media. People are often unwilling to cooperate in providing information.