The media in Brunei are completely controlled by the monarchy through a host of legal regulations.
Amended in the Local Newspapers Order 2001, this Act makes it mandatory to obtain annual publishing permits from the minister of Home Affairs for starting a newspaper. The minister is entrusted with the power to refuse, suspend or revoke licenses without assigning a reason, which is not subject to appeal or judicial review. Publication of a newspaper can be suspended for publication of anything that may persuade one to become member of or support unlawful societies or if the printer, publisher or editor is convicted of committing offences related to the Penal Code, Sedition Act and Undesirable Publication Act. Other conditions of suspension include offences related to harming the security, peace or public order of Brunei. Penalty under this act may include imprisonment of three years, fine extending to USD 40,000 or both. Publication of false news may entail a similar penalty for the printer, publisher, editor or writer. Under this Act foreign newspapers also require permits for publication, sale and distribution in Brunei. This law also forbids foreign funding in newspapers, except for commercial purpose.
Undesirable Publications Act
This law empowers the minister to prohibit importation, sale or circulation of publications printed within or outside Brunei if they are against public interest. It also allows arrest of a person without warrant if “reasonably suspected of committing or attempting to commit or of procuring or abetting any person to commit” any offence as described in the law. The word publication includes “all written, pictorial or printed matter” and everything that may suggest words or ideas. The penalty may extend up to four years of imprisonment and a fine of USD 5,000.
This law penalizes publications for having seditious intentions: This includes bringing hatred, contempt or exciting disaffection against the Sultan or the government, exciting inhabitants of Brunei to procure alteration by unlawful means, bringing hatred, contempt or exciting disaffection among people of Brunei against administration of justice, raising discontent among the people of Brunei and promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility among different classes of the population. This law also allows search of seditious publications without warrant and arrest of suspects without warrant. The penalty includes imprisonment of upto three years and a fine of USD 5,000.
Internal Security Act
A piece of regulation inherited and retained from the British Colonial rule, the Internal Security Act (ISA), as in Singapore and Malaysia, allows the government to detain citizens arbitrarily on the directive of the Home Minister and to deny them the right of a free trial. Those held under this law can be detained without charges or trial for a period of two years and the detention can be renewed indefinitely. This law can be evoked by the minister of Home Affairs if the Sultan is satisfied that it would prevent an individual from acting in a manner “prejudicial” to the security of Brunei or for “the maintenance of public order or essential services”.
The number of detainees of the ISA reached a staggering 25 in 2004, of whom some were held for posting sensitive information of the government on the Internet, according to Aliran, a Malaysia-based online magazine. The Brunei Times reported the release of one ISA detainee in a January 2010 edition.
As in other Southeast Asian countries, the Defamation Act in Brunei has a chilling effect on the media.
Broadcasting, newspapers and telecommunication fall within the purview of Defamation Act. The newspaper News Express was shut down in 2002 after being sued successfully for defamation by a private law firm.
Broadcasting Code of Practice Notification
This includes programming code for broadcasters and a code of practice for advertisers. The Broadcasting Code spells guidelines of protecting national security, racial and religious harmony and public morals and social values in the programming. Criticism of Islam, homosexuality and single motherhood are among the topics not considered suitable for broadcast. The Internet Code of Practice, which was included in the Broadcast Act in 2001, forbids any broadcast service, which is against public interest or national harmony or offends good taste or decency. Under this Act the minister in charge is bestowed with the power to impose sanctions and fines on the offenders.Back to top