Online Communication by the Brunei Government in Malay and English
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The fourth industrial revolution brings with it the need for a digital presence by institutions, state-owned or private, to promote engagement with their relevant stakeholders. In recent years, institutions have been using the media in various ways to communicate with their stakeholders: to showcase their core business, to relay updates on corporate social responsibility activities, and to promote services on offer. This chapter investigates the communicative practices of the Brunei Government through its Instagram account @govbn.
The fourth industrial revolution brings with it the need for a digital presence by institutions, state-owned or private, to promote engagement with their relevant stakeholders. In recent years, institutions have been using the media in various ways to communicate with their stakeholders: to showcase their core business, to relay updates on corporate social responsibility activities, and to promote services on offer. Since 2010, with the arrival of platforms such as Instagram on the social media scene, the nature of the communication has evolved, especially with the affordances of anonymity, ease of access, and the presence of visual aids to enhance the dissemination of information.
In the context of Brunei Darussalam, in January 2020 the internet penetration rate was among the highest in the world at 95%, which is significantly higher than the global average of only 59% (Kemp, 2020). This is facilitated by a newly established telecommunications venture owned by Darussalam Assets Sdn Bhd in cooperation with the German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom Group, a venture which was aimed at increasing connectivity and readiness for Brunei’s digital transformation (The Bruneian, 2020). With enhanced connectivity, digital activities have soared in the small sultanate. In fact, Brunei Darussalam has been leading in the use of Instagram for two consecutive years since 2018 (Wong, 2019), and it comes as no surprise that this platform is popular among individual users, corporations and government agencies. Indeed, the Brunei Government has subscribed to Instagram with the username gov.bn and has been using the platform to post official information, announcements and news since 26 November 2014, a launch scheduled to coincide with Civil Service Day celebrated on 27 November 2014.
This chapter investigates the communicative practices of the Brunei Government through its Instagram account @govbn. In particular, it explores how the government of Brunei uses the Instagram social media platform to communicate with the public, as this provides insights into the official stance on the language practice and communication policies of the government as it seeks to disseminate information to the public. In this respect, it is important to remember that the political landscape of Brunei Darussalam is guided by the national MIB (Melayu Islam Beraja, ‘Malay Islamic Monarchy’) philosophy, which means that there is a high regard for the use of Malay for official purposes by the government, as well as adherence to Islam and respect for the monarchy. This chapter, therefore, analyses how the communication practices adopted on an official social media site reflect the policies of the government of Brunei in the modern world in the context of a society that is substantially shaped by the official MIB philosophy.
4.2 Language Use in Brunei Darussalam
The official language of Brunei Darussalam is Standard Malay, a variety of the language that is similar to the Malay spoken in Malaysia and Singapore (Clynes & Deterding, 2011). The MIB philosophy places high importance on Malay culture as well as language as a way of life in the country as one of the ‘three core elements to the identity of Bruneians’ (McLellan, Noor Azam, & Deterding, 2016, p. 2). To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei (DBP, ‘Language and Literature Bureau’) in 1961, since 2011 the month of July has been designated as Malay Language Month. Such emphasis on the Malay language is important for the investigation in this paper.
Research on the linguistic practices in Brunei Darussalam has consistently shown that Malay dominates both in formal contexts, such as government newspapers and official documents, as well as informal contexts, such as spoken and written communication between friends and family (Martin & Poedjosoedarmo, 1996). It is worth noting that the informal variety, Brunei Malay, is substantially different from Standard Malay in pronunciation, grammar and lexis, but it may still be considered a dialect of Malay (Deterding & Ishamina, 2017).
Other languages are spoken in the sultanate. English is the dominant language in the education system known as Sistem Pendidikan Negara Abad Ke-21 (SPN21, ‘National Education System for the 21st Century’) that was introduced in 2009, under which students use English as the medium of instruction in Mathematics and Science from Year 1 onwards, and Malay is the medium of instruction only for Malay Language, MIB, and Islamic Religious Knowledge (McLellan et al., 2016). Indeed, to qualify for enrolment to Universiti Brunei Darussalam, applicants are required to have obtained at least a C6 credit in GCE ‘O’ level English, or an equivalent such as an IELTS score of 6.0 (FASS, 2019). This emphasis on English in the education system is to a certain extent counterbalanced by the religious schools which all Muslim children are required to attend for fifteen hours a week for seven years between the ages of 7 and 15 (Noor Azam, 2016, p. 260), and where the medium of instruction is Malay and the teaching of Arabic is also emphasised.
In analysis of written language in public spaces in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, Coluzzi (2012) and Susilawati (2016) show that, on shop signs, English coexists with Malay, in both Rumi (Roman) and the Arabic-based Jawi scripts, and Chinese characters sometimes occur in older contexts. In the courts, Powell (2009) and Masmahirah (2016) note that codeswitching between English and Malay occurs, as the proceedings are mostly in English which many of the defendants do not understand, hence the need for interpreters. Indeed, McLellan (2010) suggests that codeswitching is so common in the country that codeswitched Malay-English might be regarded as a distinct code in its own right.
4.3 Social Media in Brunei Darussalam
Social media is a pervasive product of technology and globalisation, but none of today’s ten most popular social media platforms was created as a platform for official use by institutions, corporations or governments. To date, Facebook still occupies the top spot for the most popular social media site, followed by Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn (Influencer Marketing, 2019). Facebook is arguably able to maintain its status at the top of this list because it was created in 2004, six years ahead of Instagram, so it has had ample time to accumulate active users. The demographic of Instagram users, however, is dominated by the younger generation. According to Clement (2019), 30% of its users are aged between 18 and 24, and 35% are aged between 25 and 34, so users aged between 18 and 34 constitute 65% of the total. These are the age groups that will dominate the workplace of tomorrow, and they will also have the power to sustain or challenge the communication model practiced by institutions, corporations and governments. This is one reason for the recent popularity of communication studies on Instagram in recent years (e.g. Russman & Svensson, 2016).
Brunei Darussalam’s use of Instagram has been ranked highest in the world for two consecutive years since 2018, while the sultanate is ranked third in the world for social media penetration in general and also for use of Facebook (Wong, 2019). These results are surprising, as Brunei Darussalam has an average broadband speed of just 4.78 Mbps— significantly below the world average of 11.03 Mbps, and placing it at 112th in the world (Hananto, 2019).
Clearly, the slow internet speed is not a barrier preventing the people and government of Brunei Darussalam from enjoying the affordances of the social media platforms. The government uses both Facebook (its page was created on 24 August 2014) and Instagram (since 26 November 2014), and most posts are cross-posted between Instagram and Facebook, including pictures, videos and captions. The Brunei Government also has a Twitter account (@GOV_BN) and a Youtube Channel (govbn Channel).
One affordance of social media participation by governments is the ability to directly engage with the people they are serving. This is beneficial on many levels, ranging from the mundane, such as the introduction of new services for the public and announcements about routine maintenance of government systems, to the more critical, such as discussions regarding new policies and alerts about crisis and disaster management, for example during the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020. One crucial benefit from adopting social media while maintaining the use of traditional media, such as newspapers, is encouraging the involvement of the public from merely being aware of the products, policies and services on offer to actively engaging with them, and subsequently even advocating them (Hanna, Rohm, & Crittenden, 2011). Of interest in this chapter is not what is communicated, but how communication is performed. How organisations decide to utilise social media reflects their patterns of operation (Krishnamurthy & Dou, 2008) as well as their rules and regulations (Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, & Shapiro, 2012, p. 265). It also reflects the official stance on language practice and policy.
4.4 Official Language Use on the Internet
Governments generally carefully coordinate their language usage in social media in such a way that the message is streamlined to reflect their values (Mangold & Faulds, 2009). Rao and Bagga-Gupta (2018) suggest twenty-first-century practices in the use of technology for official communication have two socio-cultural pillars: collaboration, and construction of human realities. They investigated Facebook posts by four political parties in India and Sweden, paying attention to major elements in the posts such as videos, infographics and photographs on the official pages of the respective parties, as well as comments and reactions received. The first level of analysis consisted of painting the overall picture of the features in Facebook that are adopted by the political parties to reach their audience, by means of counting these major elements. This was followed by the second level of analysis where the contents were thematically grouped to identify patterns of language use by the political parties and the people they serve. The results support the notion suggested by Crystal (2011) that English has lost its dominance in the internet, as English is no longer required for successful communication online. In India, for example, English, Hindi and Gujarati co-occur in the official Facebook space.
One characteristic of social media that is often highlighted is its collaborative nature (Hatch & Schultz, 2003; Rao & Bagga-Gupta, 2018). How such communicative collaboration occurs in Brunei is the focus of this paper as we identify the language practices evident in the @govbn official Instagram page.
4.5 Frameworks for Analysis
Language: which language is used in pictures/videos, in captions, and in hashtags
Perspective: official or informal (e.g. a snapshot), whether the material broadcasts information, and whether it is intended to mobilise
Information provision: such as public service announcements
Input seeking: for example, looking for help in solving crimes
Symbolic presentation: including political positioning and marketing
DePaula et al. (2018) also propose a category involving online dialogue/offline interaction, but this was not found to be relevant for the current study as no comments or other dialogues are investigated in the data analysed here. The rationale for the non-inclusion of comments in the investigation, despite the fact that there are open comment boxes in the Instagram page and users are able to submit a comment even without following @govbn, is because there are few comments on this site. Out of the 314 pictures and videos posted on the profile between January 2019 and December 2019, at the time of analysis only 197 comments were found. Moreover, 78 of those comments were connected with one post on 30 March, related to a press release that was posted in both Malay and English emphasising that Brunei Darussalam is an Islamic sovereign state that fully intends to continue its practice of Syariah Law alongside Common Law. Praise and criticisms regarding this post were displayed on the Instagram page, and they are still there today.
Based on the scarcity of comments apart from this single post, it seems that the Brunei Darussalam government Instagram site is intended to be a means of disseminating information rather than encouraging online interaction with the public. Hence, comments were disregarded in the investigation conducted for this chapter.
Data for the current study was obtained from the Instagram user profile, @govbn, the poster of the material. This material is accessible to all Instagram users as it has a public user profile. Those who choose to follow @govbn receive updates in their feed every time the poster uploads a new post; but those who choose not to follow the @govbn Instagram page can still access the posts either through the explore page or through direct access to the @govbn page.
Each Instagram post consists of two components: the visual, which is often a picture, though it may also contain text, and, as we will see, in some cases it is predominantly textual; and the caption, though ‘caption’ is maybe not the best term here, as it can be quite lengthy, even several hundreds of words. Here, the nature and language usage in both the visuals and the captions of @govbn Instagram posts will be investigated.
@govbn Instagram posts from January through June 2019
Number of posts
Language in Visual: Malay, English, both or none.
Language in Caption: Malay, English, or both. (There were no captions with no language. One might envisage a caption consisting just of emoticons; but such captions do not occur in the @govbn site.)
Perspective: official photograph or snapshot (e.g. shot taken with mobile device). Informal scenic views are classified as ‘snapshots’.
Broadcasting: yes (reflecting a stance on an issue) or no.
Mobilisation: yes (encouraging the viewer to perform an action), no or balanced.
Theme: summary of the post content, according to the classification of DePaula et al. (2018).
This information resulted in a dataset that can be analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively. The quantitative analysis is in the form of statistics for all the variables. The themes then supply input for the qualitative analysis.
Occurrence of language variables
We might here compare the post shown in Fig. 4.4 with the Instagram use by the government of Singapore, Brunei Darussalam’s close neighbour. The Singapore Government posted its first Instagram visual on 28 April 2017, but to date there have been no press releases uploaded like that in Fig. 4.4. The practice of @gov.sg stays true to the nature of Instagram being a photo-sharing platform, while @govbn sometimes posts identical textual contents across mediums. In such a case, it seems that the Brunei Government sometimes maintains the traditional format of communication found in newspapers, such as press releases, and shares it on Instagram as well.
Perspective: 21.6% (27 out of 125) of the official photographs are associated with English captions, while just 6.7% (2 out of 30) of the snapshots are associated with English captions; both Malay and English only occur with official photographs, never with snapshots.
Broadcasting: 70.5% (31 out of 44) of the broadcasting posts have Malay captions while 65.8% (73 out of 111) of the non-broadcasting posts have Malay captions, though any difference in the language usage in this Broadcasting category is small and non-significant (χ2 = 0.37, df = 2, p = 0.83).
Mobilisation: in the mobilising posts, 75.7% (84 out of 111) of the captions are in Malay, while 24.3% (27 out 111) are in English, and the remaining 9.9% (11 out of 111) are in both languages; for the non-mobilising posts, only one is in English, while the others are either in Malay (55.6%) or both languages (40.7%).
Perspective: not surprisingly, nearly all those visuals classified as snapshots include no language, though as we have already seen in Fig. 4.6, most of them have a caption in Malay. Just one snapshot has some Malay text.
Broadcasting: 43.2% (19 out of 44) of the broadcasting posts have no language in the visuals, as the broadcast information is found in the captions with no need for it to be included in the visuals.
Mobilisation: the most common category for mobilising posts is Malay alone, occurring in 59.6% (59 out of 99) of the visuals that include text; for non-mobilising posts, the most frequent category is both Malay and English, occurring in 45% (10 out of 22) of the visuals with text.
115 of the posts (71.2%) are classified as information providing. These include a notice about disruption of the water supply (10 January), a weather update (9 February), and an announcement about a new psychology unit in the local hospital (4 April).
13 of the posts (8.4%) are seeking information. These include a media survey about halal food (27 February; see Fig. 4.2) and a blood donation campaign (6 April).
27 of the posts (17.4%) are seen as symbolic presentations, disseminating the political, religious, or cultural positioning of the government. These include a press release on Syariah Law (30 March), an announcement about Subuh (dawn) prayer congregations (4 April), and a notice urging the public not to circulate material about the Christchurch massacre (15 March).
As mentioned above, none of the 155 posts involve initiating a dialogue with the public via online interaction, the fourth category proposed by DePaula et al., though there in fact was substantial dialogue following the post on Syariah law.
In both the visuals and captions of these posts, Malay is used substantially more than English, and Malay/English bilingual posts are also not common. Given the fact that Malay is the national language of Brunei Darussalam, this dominance of Malay as the language of official government posts is not surprising. Indeed, all written communication by the government is predominantly in Malay for official documents, forms and letters. Analysis of the language use in the captions shows that Malay on its own occurs in 75.7% of posts with a mobilising focus, and in 55.6% of the non-mobilising posts. This confirms that Malay is the preferred language for official communication, especially when the purpose of the post is to mobilise some kind of action.
Most of the posts found in @govbn are official posts by government departments and ministries, as reflected in the Perspective variable. This is expected, as the government’s motivation for the use of social networking sites such as Instagram is to communicate with the public. However, snapshots also feature in the @govbn site, and many of the snapshots are generic pictures, including some associated with a titah by His Majesty the Sultan.
Social network sites are primary sites for advocacy by many governments, but on Instagram the Brunei government remains ambivalent in its broadcasting function, as mobilisation is rather more common as a focus of the posts than broadcasting information. While there are occasional instances of warnings and stern disapprovals, for example in a press release issued on 3 June that notifies the public about fines for the impersonation of public servants, more often the government uses Instagram as a platform to mobilise people, generally urging them to perform certain actions. A post on 23 March invites attendance at a roadshow concerning the payment of tax, a post on 29 May encourages registration in a halal awareness programme, and a post on 4 February promotes tips for avoiding hand-food-and-mouth disease.
Orang ramai adalah dijemput dan dialu-alukan untuk ikut serta dalam ‘Kaji Selidik Media Bahagian Kawalan Makanan Halal’ secara online …
Members of the public are invited to participate in the ‘Halal Food Control Division Media Survey’ online … (27 February)
One might notice that, in this case, the Malay is a little wordier: the public are dijemput dan dialu-alukan (‘invited and welcomed’) to participate, while in English they are just ‘invited’. The use of Malay lexical doublets such as dijemput dan dialu-alukan has been noted before by Deterding and Salbrina (2013, p. 82) who give the example berhati dan berwaspada (‘cautious and careful’) from the Media Permata newspaper published in Brunei.
… maklum balas daripada orang ramai adalah sangat diperlukan bagi menambah baik kualiti perisian dan siaran TV … (26 January)
… feedback from the public is very much needed in order to improve the TV contents and broadcasts …
… The objective of this survey is to understand the current market needs and situation or conditions for ASEAN Television Network (ATN) … (3 January)
This chapter has shown that there is substantially more use of Malay than English both in the visuals and in the captions of the @govbn Instagram site, reflecting the formal preference for use of Malay as the official language in the Sultanate and following the guidelines of the official MIB philosophy. The primary function of the @govbn profile is to disseminate information to the public, engaging in Information Provision (DePaula et al., 2018), and many of the posts can be regarded as mobilising in nature, so the government often uses the site to encourage the public to engage in some kind of action. Although some posts initiate surveys, there is no attempt by the government to use Instagram as a means to encourage dialogue with the public. One other observation is that many of the visual components of the posts are mere scans of a textual announcement, with little effort to provide a more appealing visual, though this is certainly not always the case, as even titahs (speeches) by His Majesty the Sultan can be associated with an informal scenic view as their visual. Finally, in cases where Malay and English captions can be compared, they are not always identical, as the English is sometimes more matter-of-fact while the Malay occasionally uses lexical doublets to accommodate a rhetorical style favoured in Malay written discourse.
Images from @govbn Instagram site are used with permissions from E-Government National Centre.
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