Tightly controlled by the communist party since the Pathet Lao came to power in 1975, Laos’s minuscule media struggles to compete with flashy Thai TV gameshows and the multitude of channels offered by satellite dishes. With only one-tenth of the population of its neighbour, it’s very hard for Laos to compete with Thailand.
Newspapers and magazines
Laos has only one English-language newspaper, the Vientiane Times, established in 1994. Despite being somewhat thin, self-censored and nearly impossible to find outside the capital, it is nonetheless a good window on Laos. Published by the Ministry of Information and Culture, the Vientiane Times focuses primarily on business and trade issues, although interesting cultural pieces do slip in from time to time, and the occasional column showcasing people’s opinion on a selected social topic is a worthwhile read. You’ll also find ads for restaurant specials and local teaching jobs.
There are two Lao-language dailies and five weeklies. Of the two dailies, Wieng Mai and Pasason, the latter is more widely read. Both get their international news from KPL, the government news agency, and, for the most part, have their own reporters who file domestic news. Neither is known for independent-minded reportage. In fact it’s fair to say you’ll find much more news about Laos online (a list of recommended websites appears below) than you can in the country.
Foreign publications are extremely difficult to find outside Vientiane, and even in the capital there are scant copies. Newsweek, The Economist, Time and the Bangkok Post are all sold at minimarkets in Vientiane.
Online news about Laos
whttp://www.vientianetimes.org.la The official website of the Vientiane Times contains most of the stories from Laos’s only English-language newspaper.
whttp://www.laosguide.com News gathered from around the world, with a strong bias towards issues affecting Laos.
whttp://www.laosnews.net Daily news updates from Laos, including links to stories about its economy and tourist industry.
whttp://www.muonglao.com An online magazine running articles that focus on the people and culture of Laos.
whttp://www.bangkokpost.net The website of Thailand’s leading English-language daily, which often runs stories about Laos.
whttp://www.asianobserver.com This lively web forum has news and debates on all things Laos.
Television and radio
Lao television’s two government-run channels broadcast a mix of news, cultural shows and Chinese soaps for several hours a day, with no English programming. Reception is poor, however, in rural areas. One of the oddest sights in Laos is that of rickety bamboo and thatch huts and houses all over the country with huge, modern satellite dishes attached to the roofs. Many mid-range and top-end hotels provide satellite TV – though often these show only a handful of channels – as do a few coffee shops and bakeries in Luang Prabang and Vientiane.
Lao radio thrives, helped along by the fact that newspapers and TV stations are not available to many people in the countryside. The main radio station, Lao National Radio, can be picked up in the vicinity of Vientiane or on shortwave in roughly seventy percent of the country. LNR gets its international news from a number of sources, including CNN, BBC, Xinhua and KPL, and broadcasts news in English twice a day. Tuning into LNR will also give you a chance to hear traditional Lao music, which you otherwise may only get to hear at festivals.