What rules may ON have broken?
The NPO is emphatically not about the content of the members’ programs and the editorial freedom therefore extends far. However, there are certainly limits. For example, the broadcasters must adhere to the journalistic code of the NPO and the media law. The programs must apply the right to be heard and must not simply leave incorrect information uncontested. Among other things, the media law states that programs may not incite violence or hatred against a group or member of a group.’
According to the NPO, broadcaster ON has reached the limit of the permissible with the broadcast on Thursday afternoon. The program Unheard of News showed a compilation of footage of black men beating white men. According to presenter Arlette Adriani, they showed ‘the less exposed side of racism’. Co-presenter Raisa Blommestijn commented: ‘Whites being beaten up by negroes’. pointerjournalist Marieke Kuypers later examined the images and came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of ‘anti-white’ racism in any case.
NPO chairman Frederieke Leeflang wrote in a statement that the public broadcaster attaches great importance to editorial freedom, but that there is a limit with regard to ‘racist or discriminatory statements’. That was also the view of all other broadcasters, who strongly criticized ON in a joint statement. They spoke out against the broadcaster’s ‘false, racist message’, which they said was not only ‘unjournalistic’ but also goes against the core values of the NPO. “Unworthy of public broadcasting,” was the overall verdict.
It has never happened before that broadcasters speak out so strongly against a fellow broadcaster. At the same time, it is not important for any action against ON what the other broadcasters think of a broadcast.
How can the NPO act against ON?
The NPO cannot simply proceed with a sanction against ON. The broadcasters must be able to operate independently, both from the NPO and from The Hague. Therefore, some safeguards are built into the system. The public broadcaster must first await advice from the ombudsman of the NPO and the Media Authority.
Acting against a broadcaster is also very politically sensitive; the NPO will therefore want to do everything by the book. The fact that this situation has never occurred before does not make it any easier: when ON was fined 93 thousand euros earlier this year for ‘systematic violation of the journalistic code’, it was the first fine ever for that reason.
Leeflang has asked both the Ombudsman and the Office of the Commission to express their views on the matter. The ombudsman looks into complaints about the broadcast. On Sunday, the counter stood at a record number of nearly 1,700 complaints filed, almost twice the total number received over the whole of last year. At the same time, the Commissariaat assesses whether ON has violated the media law.
If the ombudsman and the Media Authority indeed judge that ON has violated the NPO code and media law, the broadcaster can expect a fine. This can amount to 540 thousand euros, 15 percent of the total annual budget of 3.6 million that the ON has received. The fact that ON was previously fined makes the chance of a new monetary penalty a lot greater.
Is there also a chance that ON will disappear from the transmitter?
To start with, after a second negative judgment, the NPO can decide to cancel the broadcasts of Unheard of News to put. In an interview with de Volkskrant NPO chairman Leeflang said about the previous complaints procedure that the program can be taken off the air if there is no ‘improvement’.
If a broadcaster is fined a second time, the NPO will notify the government. Then it is up to Gunay Uslu, State Secretary for Culture and Media (D66), to take further steps. She cannot convert the five-year aspiring membership of ON into a full membership, suspend the broadcaster or even decide to remove ON completely from the system.