[Note: The following article was published on the Golden Legacy Column of Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times on 7th July 2007.]
As ‘The Brunei Times’ celebrates its anniversary of being the new kid in the Brunei’s newspaper industry, it is worthwhile to look at how the newspaper industry have fared since newspapers began to be circulated in Brunei.
Brunei’s media industry is relatively new compared to many other countries. Despite Brunei being an ancient country, it is considered a new nation by some which it is. After the turbulence at the end of the 19th century where Brunei had lost practically most of its territories, Brunei emerged as a new nation, having the first British Resident in 1906 to set up the new modern administration, discovering oil as its new lifeline in 1929, writing its own constitution and self internal administration in 1959 and finally achieving its independence in 1984.
Likewise the newspaper industry only began after the 1950s. Before 1950, there was no other publication in Brunei other than the Annual Reports which are published by the British Colonial Office. The first other regular government publication was the Government Gazette which was first published in 1951. However the gazette was not strictly a newspaper, but an official publication for the government.
The first newspaper to appear was ‘Salam Seria’ published in 1952 by the British Malayan Petroleum Company, the forerunner to today’s Brunei Shell Petroleum Company. Being an official company publication, it delivered news and information to its staff as well as the general public regarding its oil exploration and other company news. Even though it was produced bilingually in English and Malay, the Malay version had added content of world news and educational materials. ‘Salam Seria’ became ‘Salam’ the year after and had remained until now. ‘Salam’ remained a free publication.
The second newspaper is today’s ‘Borneo Bulletin’ which first appeared on 7th November 1953. This English weekly publication was printed in Kuala Belait by the Brunei Press Company which was formed in October 1953. Borneo Bulletin was sold for 20 cents when it was first produced. At first most of its news concentrated more on news in Borneo with special emphasis on Brunei and its first publication run of about 3,500 was the largest in Borneo then.
In 1959, the founders of Borneo Bulletin sold the press and newspaper to the Straits Times of Singapore. The first bulletins were published with different covers for the three different editions for Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak. It publication increased to about 10,000 by 1957 but was reduced to about 6,000 in 1970 as a result of both Sarawak and Sabah being incorporated in Malaysia. However by 1983, production had increased to about 30,000 before gradually reducing to about 10,000 by 1997.
In 1985, Brunei Darussalam's first public listed company, QAF, took over part of the shares of Brunei Press from the Straits Times. By September 1990, the ‘Borneo Bulletin’ became a daily newspaper. At present, the circulation per issue averaged 20,000 copies daily while the Weekend and Sunday edition averaged 25,000 copies.
The third publication is the Government’s ‘Pelita Brunei’ which was first published in 1956. Pelita Brunei’s first issue on 15th February 1956 had His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Saadul Khairi Waddien’s speech inaugurating the publication of the newspaper.
In 1957, ‘Pelita Brunei’ was produced twice monthly and was at first produced using A4 size paper before increasing in size to 9 inch by 14 inch in 1959. It was not until July 1965 before ‘Pelita Brunei’ became a weekly newspaper published every Wednesday and remained so until now.
In the beginning, there was only about 1,000 being printed by the 1990s, more than 45,000 ‘Pelita Brunei’ was printed weekly becoming the largest print publication in the country. The content of the newspaper increased from about 4 pages to about 24 pages now and with a second part being added to it containing all the government job vacancies and tenders being awarded in the government as well as other interesting features and articles.
A fourth publication was a short lived one called the ‘Berita Brunei’ which was first published in March 1957. It was printed in Malay and also partly in jawi. It was a weekly publication and was published every Thursday and sold for about 10 cents each with a print run of about 5,000. By July 1958, the jawi was dropped and by October 1959 it was renamed as ‘Berita Borneo’. However the newly named ‘Berita Borneo’ only lasted for 5 editions and the last publication was in December 1958 with the editor citing the drop in advertisements from Malaysia and Singapore as the main reason for its demise.
In April 1958, another publication in jawi started called ‘Malaysia’ printed by the Budaya Press. Sold for about 20 cents each, it too died by September 1958.
A publication by a former political party called ‘Suara Bakti’ was published on October 1961 and came out every Friday was the sixth newspaper in Brunei. It called itself ‘the largest weekly newspaper in North Kalimantan’ and sold for 20 cents each. However the newspaper came out sporadically and by December 1961 it only had about 10 editions. A new editor took over and that too lasted for only about 5 editions before closing down in January 1962.
A seventh publication called ‘Bintang Harian’ and ‘The Daily Star’ published in both Malay and English first appeared in March 1966. It appeared everyday except Sunday and cost about 15 cents. More than 10,000 copies were printed daily as it was published not just for Brunei, but also for Sabah and Sarawak, West Malaysia and Singapore. When it stopped publication in January 1971, more than 15,000 copies was printed. The publication stopped when the publishers The Star Press became a subsidiary of The Brunei Press.
Two other government publications, Brunei Darussalam Newsletter and the Brunei Darussalam Daily Digest were published in October 1985 and January 1990 respectively. The former continued being published but its readership is mostly made up of foreign readers and are seldom seen by local readers. The latter had stopped but efforts are in place to restart the publication again.
‘Media Permata’ was the latest of a number of local Malay newspaper when it began in January 1995 as a weekly paper focusing on local news and features for the Malay literate. It was relaunched as a daily newspaper in July 1998 and remained so until today with an average of 10,000 copies of Media Permata being circulated. Media Permata is available from Monday to Friday and a weekend edition is also available for Saturday and Sunday.
The last newspaper to appear before Brunei Times was the ‘News Express’. News Express started when the 20th Southeast Asian Games was hosted in Bandar Seri Begawan towards the later end of 1999 but by early 2001, it too joined the ranks of other newspapers which were unable to sustain themselves in Brunei’s competitive newspaper market.
And of course, the latest newspaper to join in the ranks of Brunei’s newspapers is today’s Brunei Times.