What rules may ON have broken?
The NPO is emphatically not about the content of the members’ programs and theeditorial freedom therefore extends far. However, there are certainly limits.For example, the broadcasters must adhere to the journalistic code of the NPOand the media law. The programs must apply the right to be heard and must notsimply leave incorrect information uncontested. Among other things, the medialaw states that programs may not incite violence or hatred against a group ormember of a group.’
According to the NPO, broadcaster ON has reached the limit of the permissiblewith the broadcast on Thursday afternoon. The program Unheard of News showeda compilation of footage of black men beating white men. According topresenter Arlette Adriani, they showed ‘the less exposed side of racism’. Co-presenter Raisa Blommestijn commented: ‘Whites being beaten up by negroes’.pointer journalist Marieke Kuypers later examined the images and came to theconclusion that there was no evidence of ‘anti-white’ racism in any case.
NPO chairman Frederieke Leeflang wrote in a statement that the publicbroadcaster attaches great importance to editorial freedom, but that there isa limit with regard to ‘racist or discriminatory statements’. That was alsothe view of all other broadcasters, who strongly criticized ON in a jointstatement. They spoke out against the broadcaster’s ‘false, racist message’,which they said was not only ‘unjournalistic’ but also goes against the corevalues of the NPO. “Unworthy of public broadcasting,” was the overallverdict.
It has never happened before that broadcasters speak out so strongly against afellow broadcaster. At the same time, it is not important for any actionagainst 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 broadcastersmust be able to operate independently, both from the NPO and from The Hague.Therefore, some safeguards are built into the system. The public broadcastermust first await advice from the ombudsman of the NPO and the Media Authority.
Acting against a broadcaster is also very politically sensitive; the NPO willtherefore want to do everything by the book. The fact that this situation hasnever occurred before does not make it any easier: when ON was fined 93thousand euros earlier this year for ‘systematic violation of the journalisticcode’, it was the first fine ever for that reason.
Leeflang has asked both the Ombudsman and the Office of the Commission toexpress their views on the matter. The ombudsman looks into complaints aboutthe broadcast. On Sunday, the counter stood at a record number of nearly 1,700complaints filed, almost twice the total number received over the whole oflast year. At the same time, the Commissariaat assesses whether ON hasviolated the media law.
If the ombudsman and the Media Authority indeed judge that ON has violated theNPO code and media law, the broadcaster can expect a fine. This can amount to540 thousand euros, 15 percent of the total annual budget of 3.6 million thatthe ON has received. The fact that ON was previously fined makes the chance ofa 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 cancelthe broadcasts of Unheard of News to put. In an interview with deVolkskrant NPO chairman Leeflang said about the previous complaints procedurethat 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), totake further steps. She cannot convert the five-year aspiring membership of ONinto a full membership, suspend the broadcaster or even decide to remove ONcompletely from the system.