As we mark World Press Freedom Day today, it is important to take stock of where we stand and where we are going in regards to freedom of the press. This year's 26th worldwide commemoration is to recognize, honour, and underscore the essential role that free and independent media play in fostering and protecting freedom of expression and democratic principles. The Lao PDR has enshrined these principles in its Constitution.
The European Union and its Member States are promoting free and fair media not only at home but also globally in their relations with third countries, including Laos, by providing funding for targeted projects that enhance quality journalism, press freedom and access to public information.
While bearing the great responsibility to guarantee checked and correct news to the public, we are meanwhile of the firm opinion that independent media is an important tool for the betterment of the society, for raising public awareness and empowering citizens.
Political figures in the European Union are not exempt from being criticised, praised or even ridiculed depending on the perspective of the media outlet. This exchange of diverse thoughts and ideas allows both the public and the leaders to assess policy rightly and to adjust their positions accordingly.
As Laos looks ahead to the Least Developed Country status graduation and the attainment of the objective to become a Rule of Law State, the media will be called upon to provide transparent and detailed coverage of these important steps for the country.
In 2019 the Lao PDR ranked 171st in the world for press freedom, established by the NGO "Reporters without Borders" This score is partially due to a lack of media pluralism. With a slight drop from its 2018 ranking, Laos has still a long way to go.
The European Union and its Member States will continue to support raising the professional standards of journalists in order for Laos to meet its international commitments in that particular domain, and sending journalists to various exchange programs.
We are of the view that democracy relies on open, free and fair public debate and it is our duty to protect this space and not allow anybody to spread disinformation that fuels hatred, division, and mistrust.
In a spirit of good cooperation and in the context of our ongoing dialogue, the Delegation of the European Union in Vientiane conducted together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism a joint-event to encourage press freedom and the fight against disinformation. We are looking forward to continue this open and fruitful dialogue.
We support the idea that sustainable development can only exist in an environment where journalists can operate freely, independently, and without fear. With free journalism under increasing pressure, the EU reaffirms its determination to defend press and media freedom within its borders and worldwide.