Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The absolute monarchy of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and emergency laws—in effect for nearly half a century—continue to restrict journalists and limit the diversity of media content in Brunei. Since 2001, harsh press legislation has required that newspapers apply for annual publishing permits and that noncitizens obtain government approval to work as journalists. The government has the authority to arbitrarily shut down media outlets and to bar distribution of foreign publications. Journalists can be jailed for up to three years for reporting “false and malicious” news. The May 2005 Sedition Act further restricted press freedom by expanding the list of punishable offenses to include criticism of the sultan, the royal family, or the prominence of the national philosophy, the Malay Islamic monarchy concept. Under the amended law, persons convicted of such crimes, or any publishers, editors, or proprietors of a newspaper publishing matters with seditious intention, face fines of up to B$5,000 (US$2,965).
Media are not able to convey a diversity of viewpoints and opinions, and criticism of the government is rare. The private press is either owned or controlled by the sultan’s family or practices self-censorship on political and religious matters. The country’s main English-language daily newspaper, the Borneo Bulletin, is controlled by the sultan’s family and generally practices self-censorship to avoid angering the government, though it does publish letters to the editor that criticize government policies. A second English-language daily, the Brunei Times, was launched in July by a media company run by a group of prominent businessmen, after receiving permission from the sultan. While the paper is run out of an office away from the city center and covers a wider range of international news, its global focus is intended to help foster international investment in light of the country’s depleting oil and gas reserves, thus falling in line with current government priorities. A smaller Malay newspaper and several Chinese newspapers are also published within Brunei. The only local broadcast outlets, including the country’s one television station, are operated by the government-controlled Radio Television Brunei, but residents can also receive Malaysian broadcasts, and international news is available via satellite channels. No incidents of attacks on or harassment of the press were reported in 2006.
With roughly 33 percent of the population accessing the internet, usage is growing and access is reportedly unrestricted. Yet the primary internet service provider is state owned, and the country’s internet practice code stipulates that content must not be subversive, promote illegitimate reform efforts, incite disharmony or instability, or fall out of line with “Brunei Darussalam’s religious values, social and societal mores.” It also requires all sites that carry content or discuss issues of a religious or political nature to register with the Broadcasting Authority and makes failure to register punishable on conviction by imprisonment for up to three years and/or a fine of up to US$200,000. The government stepped up internet monitoring efforts in 2006, for the 33 percent of the population with online access, by calling on internet cafés to install firewalls to prevent users from viewing immoral content and, according to the U.S. State Department, to monitor private e-mail and internet chat-room exchanges of citizens believed to be subversive.