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REGIONS:

NEW PENALTIES FOR PROVIDING "FALSE INFORMATION" PLANNED

The government of Laos intends to define the "truths" that the media should report and introduce new penalties for journalists who provide "false information" about the country, report the International Press Institute (IPI) and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN). On 8 June, Information and Culture Minister Phandouangchit Vongsa told Reuters news agency that his ministry was amending present laws to "promote the standards" of the media, reports IPI. "We need to raise the professionalism of the Laotian media . . . their reporting must be responsive to the [ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party's] long-term target to bring the country out of poverty by 2020," Phandouangchit said. The minister also stated that new media guidelines would define which "truths" should be reported for the benefit of the country.

Phandouangchit also said he would tighten penalties for those who give false information about the country, report IPI and WAN. At present, the penal code forbids criticism of the state, distorting state or party politics and spreading false rumours. Journalists who fail to write "constructive reports" or "obstruct" the Lao People's Revolutionary Party's programme face jail sentences of between five and fifteen years, note IPI and WAN.

IPI calls the decision to tighten the already restrictive penal code "a heavy-handed attempt at preventing critical news reports on Laos appearing in the international media." The organisation notes that on 30 March 2000, ABC journalists Ginny Stein and David Leland were arrested while reporting on the aftermath of a bomb explosion that destroyed a restaurant in the capital. Last September, the authorities reacted angrily to reports by the Associated Press that security forces were preventing the free movement of people at night. For more information, see www.freemedia.at.


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