Laos Warns Social Media-Based News Outlets to Register to Prevent ‘Fake News’

Laos has issued notices to online media outfits to register with the government or be prohibited from publishing information and news on social media platforms like Facebook, sources in the country told RFA.

The notice last month by Laos’ Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICT) warns that “any individual, legal entity, state or private sector that continues to publish and provide information to the public via social media without permission will face measures in line with the laws of the Lao PDR.”

A MICT official, who requested anonymity for security reasons, confirmed the Sept. 17 notice to RFA’s Lao Service.

“The notice says unregistered online social media [news outlets] are allowed to register at any time,” the official said recently.

An anonymous RFA source said that 20 Facebook pages–including Tholakhong, Inside Laos, and Lao Youth–have been registered, while several other news sites like the Lao-Thai Facebook page have not registered.

Some Lao publishers and citizens told RFA that they agreed with the government measure to crack down on fake news.

“I agree with the order as it will lead to better organization. Everything should be in the same order or in the same system so that false information cannot be spread,” one social media publisher, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told RFA.

“Of course, if they are caught spreading false information, publishers should be treated according to the law,” the publisher said.

The owner of another Facebook-based news organization told RFA that fake news should not be published.

“Yes, there are some prohibitions in the new notice. We are not allowed to post stories about politics. We have to be more careful before posting something like that,” the source said.

Another Facebook-based publisher who registered told RFA that all such outlets should do the same, saying, “They shouldn’t break rules and regulations. Additionally, operators should double check and take more precautions before publishing anything publicly.”

A Lao man who says he gets his news from Facebook told RFA that registering would offer a degree of quality control.

“Yes, sometimes I don’t know where the news and other information comes from. Fake news and lies can negatively affect other people. Sometimes misinformed people act on misunderstandings,” he said.

But not everyone was in agreement with the new order.

“I think the measure is to control these social media outlets in Laos. It’s another way to restrict our press freedom,” a Facebook page administrator who asked for anonymity told RFA Tuesday.

“The government is urging all social media outlets to register because it wants to monitor them, to intimidate them and to restrict their freedom,” a second Facebook page administrator told RFA. “The Facebook users will be more afraid to post anything against the Party and government.”

According to a report in the Vientiane Times, persons causing loss or damage through social media are subject to a prison sentence of three months to three years and a fine of 4 million to 20 million kip, according to Article 62 of the law.

In a series of RFA interviews in August for the 70th Lao Media and Publication Day, Lao citizens said they shunned Lao state media to get their news on YouTube, Facebook and television from next-door Thailand, with one resident of the capital saying  state media were “slow and not up to date.”

Ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party since 1975, Lao’s government brooks no opposition in any form and locks up citizens who post popular gripes and mild criticism on Facebook about corruption and mismanagement.

In 2014, the Lao government issued a decree prohibiting online criticism of the government and the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP), setting out stiff penalties for netizens and internet service providers who violate government controls.

Reporters Without Borders reported this year that Laos was ranked 172nd out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom.

Washington-based Freedom House classified Laos as “not free” with a global freedom score of 14 out of 100 in its 2020 Freedom of the World survey. The Southeast Asian country scored 2 out of 40 in political rights, and 12 out of 60 in civil liberties.

 

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