The Lao People's Army has launched a television station funded entirely by the country's powerful northern neighbor China, Lao media sources say. The station, Lao Army Television Channel 7, began broadcasting content on Sept. 9 from its building in the capital Vientiane.
The station will operate under the authority of the Defense Ministry, which will be responsible for all broadcasts and programs distributed online, a Ministry official told RFA's Lao Service on Sept. 10.
"Our new TV station is starting out with our own programs and under our own control," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
TV Channel 7 will broadcast via satellite and focus its reports on news about the Lao military and its activities, Defense Minister Chansamone Chanyalath told state media on Sept. 10, calling the station's four-storey, 11 billion kip (U.S. $1,204,428) facility China's "special gift for the Lao Army, government, and the Lao people."
Construction on the station's building began on March 1, 2018, and China "provided and installed the necessary equipment for the television station while Chinese military experts and technicians trained Lao officials in its use," the state-run Vientiane Times said on Thursday.
Most Lao citizens reached for comment by RFA voiced indifference to the new station, with many saying that state-controlled media in the one-party communist country rarely broadcast impartial and objective news stories to the public.
"I don't know about the new station. I don't watch local TV that much, actually," one resident in the capital Vientiane said, also speaking on condition his name not be used. "Mostly, I watch Thai television shows."
Suffering of the people
Another resident said that he looks at Facebook for news, while a Lao worker in Thailand said the new station will only serve as "the voice of the army, the government, and the [ruling] party."
"This new station will mostly publicize military or police activities," he said. "It won't carry any stories about the suffering of the people."
Laos has been ruled since 1975 by the communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party, which monopolizes political power and control of the media.
A resident of the northeastern Lao province of Xieng Khouang meanwhile expressed support for Channel 7, saying he hadn't yet watched the channel.
"But the station will be good for many reasons. One of these is that the military will be able to talk about the [1960s-70s] war and the battles it fought, and about historical incidents."
Growing Chinese influence
Concern has been growing in Laos over China's growing influence as a result of its massive investment in hydropower dams, a major railway, and other infrastructure projects under Beijing's $1.3 trillion Belt and Road Initiative. China is Laos' largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second-largest trade partner after Thailand.
This week, Laos' state-run electricity corporation entered into a power grid sharing agreement with a Chinese state-run firm, ceding majority control in a tie-up the government says was necessary to save the debt-ridden domestic firm, but that critics say cedes too much power to a foreign government concern.
In an annual survey of press freedom released in April, Laos was ranked 172 out of 180 countries for 2019 by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which said the ruling LPRP "exercises total control over the media."
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFA last month that freedom of the press is nonexistent in Laos.
"The Lao government is authoritarian and has for a long time severely violated human rights. It has never honored democracy nor has it ever respected freedom of the press, including television, newspapers and radio, and it has never respected the opinions of its people," Robertson told RFA.
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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