Keeping ordinary Laotians informed and making a difference

I take sharp exception to Mr Minh Pham's recommendation to end Radio Free Asia's Laos broadcasts ("How Obama can win hearts and minds in Laos"; Tuesday).

In a country consistently ranked at the bottom of press freedom surveys by Reporters Sans Frontieres and other media watchdog groups, the people of Laos have access to few if any sources of timely, reliable news in their native tongue - except for Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Utilising vast networks of sources inside Laos, RFA journalists break stories almost daily that affect ordinary Laotians - about the country's drug trade and its use of women to transport illicit substances, land disputes, labour protests, and recent shootings that have left Lao soldiers dead.

In addition, RFA investigates complex, ongoing issues such as Chinese investment in Laos, the damming of the Mekong River, and human trafficking.

RFA was among the first to report on the 2012 disappearance of Lao activist Sombath Somphone and has closely monitored developments since.

We have also seen changes implemented as a direct result of RFA's journalism, including the suspension of operations at a Chinese-run e-waste plant in Vientiane because of pollution concerns, tougher regulations for banana plantations that poisoned water sources for locals in Bokeo province, and an official investigation into illegal logging in Khammuan province.

I hesitate to think, if left to state-controlled media, whether these stories would be covered at all, let alone how they would be handled.

RFA also provides a rare opportunity for its listeners to freely express their views on social media and the airwaves, effectively allowing them to participate in an open forum.

For our audience in Laos, RFA is more than a trusted source of valuable information. They tell us RFA is a lifeline.

Libby Liu (Ms)
Radio Free Asia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'Keeping ordinary Laotians informed and making a difference'. Print Edition | Subscribe