Saturday, December 09, 2006

Brunei Bloggers: Don't give up

A newspaper in Brunei has published an article about Brunei Bloggers, intimating that they could be sued for libel or worse. In other countries, this might come across as a fairly neutral piece on the risks of defamation or making libellous statements online.

However, the Brunei media is tightly controlled - this from the BBC website:

Brunei's media are neither diverse nor free. The private press is either owned or controlled by the royal family, or exercises self-censorship on political and religious matters. Media rights body Reporters Without Borders says news outlets carry "virtually no criticism of the government".

A press law provides prison terms of up to three years for reporting "false news".

The only local broadcast media are operated by the government-controlled Radio Television Brunei. Foreign TV is available via cable. Access to the internet is said to be unrestricted.

So blogging is just about the only way that the people living in Brunei can express themselves freely and comment on their daily lives. To tell the truth, there are very few blogs that actually make any social or political comment - and any criticism of government policy is always carefully worded and studiously "detached" i.e. no personal attacks or accusations. Here are some of the more interesting blogs:

Our Local Style
The Daily Brunei Resources
Life in Lumut

And here is the Borneo Bulletin article (with thanks to Our Local Style)

Frankly, the Borneo Bulletin is one (short) step up from a free "community" newspaper covering items like supermarket openings, hotel room special offers and stock speeches given by government officials. You won't find any hard-hitting editorials or controversial news here. However, this article has lead to some discussion in the blogger community and who can blame them if they are getting twitchy?

To be fair to the local media though, Brunei's "State of Emergency" laws have never been repealed since they were enforced in the 60s to quash a rebellion against the royal family. This means you can be held in prison without charge indefinitely. Just think about that - you can be put into prison for the rest of your life, and no reason has to be provided. Ever.

(There is a law about reporting false news, but hey, that's just a side dish compared to the "held indefinitely" main course that you have to swallow)

Under those circumstances, I can imagine that I'd be pretty circumspect too if my name had to appear above an article in the local paper.

But my main point is not about the laws of Brunei Darussalam, but the insinuating tone of the Borneo Bulletin article. Note that no "experts" are actually named; "authoritative sources" - come on. You would think that professional journalists would welcome other forms of written comment. Is the writer of the article the mouthpiece of a higher authority? Or simply feeling threatened?

So Brunei Bloggers, don't give up. You're all doing great work.

Just so I don't give the wrong impression about Brunei Darussalam. It's not like Zimbabwe or Afghanistan where chaos reigns, people are routinely rounded up and disappear, hooded quasi-government militiamen wait round every corner....... It is a safe, peaceful, prosperous country. But, it is the sort of place where children are warned by their parents not to repeat in school anything they may hear their parents discussing at home. It is clear that Brunei's prosperity has been largely due to it's political stability - and I'm not an expert in political systems, so I'm not even going to go there. After all, who would prefer to live in the "Democratic" Republic of Congo?


han said...

linked u to our blog, we used to live in london :)

Katie-Ella said...

Hi Han, it's a bit scary to know that someone out there is actually reading my blog! I hope you find it interesting.

han said...

u can always change the options and restrict those who can read ur blog... its like having ur diary out in public for viewing if u know wat i mean :)

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