Rights, social reponsibilities of bloggers


Sunday, September 26, 2010

IN THE last few years, Bruneians have taken to blogs to showcase their pictures, express their opinions and share their insights on daily life in Brunei. Setting up a blog and writing a blog post takes mere minutes, but the consequences of a biased or even a badly written blog post can easily ruin a blogger's reputation or even see them slapped with a lawsuit in the process.

The Attorney General Chamber's organised a dialogue on "Responsibilities of Bloggers and other legislation issues on the use of Social Media in Brunei Darussalam"at the Law and Courts Building, Bandar Seri Begawan, yesterday, giving local bloggers and social media users an insight of the local laws that govern blog content in Brunei. The speakers at the event were Ahmad Jefri Rahman, Senior Counsel and Hjh Rahayu Dato Hj Abd Razak, Principal Counsel.

Though there has not been any major case of litigation concerning blogs and bloggers in Brunei, the neighbouring countries of Malaysia and Singapore have had cases which has resulted in imprisonment for comments made by bloggers.

"There is a disturbing trend now on the internet where some people are inciting racial unrest and causing confusion and this will damage the peace we have in the country," said Ahmad Jefri Rahman.

It's easy to write a blog post and leave it online for it to be consumed by the public at large, but bloggers in Brunei must be aware that that though there are laws protecting freedom of expression in many Western countries, according to Ahmad Jefri Rahman, in Brunei, "there are no such rights of freedom of expression as the likes of in the US and in the UK." So local bloggers need to be aware of the legal issues arising from their online activity in Brunei Darussalam.

During the talk, Ahmad Jefri and Hjh Rahayu highlighted and explained some of the laws that impact local bloggers and their activities in Brunei Darussalam, which are the Broadcasting Act (Chapter 180), The Internet Code of Practice Notification, Electronic Transactions Act (Chapter 196), Defamation Act (Chapter 192), Sedition Act (Chapter 24) and the Copyright Order 1999, which can be found on the Attorney General's Chamber's website : www.agc.gov.bn.

The Broadcasting Act, which doesn't just cover radio and television, also applies to bloggers, as they are providing a "programme" which under the Section Two of the act is defined as "any matter the primary purpose of which is to entertain, educate or inform all or part of the public" meaning that any information which is written on a blog is considered to be a programme. As bloggers contribute to online content, they too fall under the class licensing scheme which covers computer online services provided as an Internet Content Provider.

Paragraph 12 of the conditions of Class License (of the Broadcasting Act) states, "An Internet Content Provider who provides a web page on the world wide web through the internet (e.g a blogger) which other persons are invited to contribute or post programmes shall use its best efforts to ensure such programmes conform with the applicable codes of practice."

This means that a blogger is not just responsible for the content of their blog that they have written, but also the comments contributed by readers of the blog, and they must ensure that these comments do not contain seditious content when they are published online.

Furthermore, according to the Internet Code of Practice Notification, "The Internet Code of Practice provides that all licensees must use best efforts to ensure that the Internet does not contain anything which is against public interest or national harmony or which offends good taste and decency in relation to, and in particular, Internet content with regards to: public security and national defence; racial and religious harmony; public and social morals." According to Hjh Rahayu, programmes or blog contents that have breached the Internet Code of Practice Notification will be issued with a "take down" notice, and that there have been cases in Brunei which has been successfully carried out.

Serious offenses which go against the Internet Code of Practice could result in a blogger attracting criminal sanctions, imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine not exceeding $20,000, which is quite a price to pay for a post that may or not be read by just one person, or possibly thousands.

It's important that bloggers should be aware of what they can and cannot write online, and that as an Internet Content Provider, what they write will be their responsibility.

It does not mean that they cannot express their views and opinions, but rather they should think carefully about their message and their content so that what is intended is not miscontrued as going against the Internet Code of Practice.

Bloggers should also be aware that under the Defamation act that a blog post "for the purpose of the law of libel and slander, the broadcasting of words by means of telecommunication shall be treated as publication in a permanent form". According to the Encyclopedia of Everyday law on enotes.com, "Libel occurs when the false and defamatory communication is written and seen.

The laws governing libel and slander, which are collectively known as 'Defamation', are identical." The serious consequences behind information that is regarded as libel could result in a court case for the blogger. Even though the libellous content on a blog post may be deleted, there's a possibility that the post can be recovered through an Internet cache, and can be used in a court of law as evidence.

This article on the rights and social responsibilities of bloggers will be continued in Monday's edition of The Brunei Times which will touch on the Copyright order, the Sedition act and the rules of bloggers. The Brunei Times