‘BNNVARA did not intervene in the culture of fear at DWDD’

Partly due to his “extreme rages” Matthijs van Nieuwkerk helped The world goes on for a culture of fear that made many employees sick. This writes de Volkskrant Saturday in a long reconstruction for which the newspaper spoke to seventy former employees. More than fifty of them endorse the presenter’s conclusion of ‘structural transgressive behaviour’. As a result, several suffered a burnout, anxiety attacks, or other serious psychological complaints, in some cases lasting.

According to de Volkskrant, the complaints about the abuses at the talk show, which was on television from 2005 to 2020, were long known to the management of broadcaster BNNVARA, but they did not intervene because the daily TV program was so successful. The ‘hard’ editorial culture simply belonged to the high level, according to Frans Klein, the then broadcasting director who is now TV director of the entire public broadcaster. Most editors, officially the executives for the program, did not intervene either, or were themselves guilty of misconduct, such as Dieuwke Wynia, as the reconstruction shows.

Comments

Van Nieuwkerk did not want to cooperate with the article, but did stipulate with de Volkskrant that he could post a reaction next to it by way of rebuttal. In it he writes: “I am very sorry that we have apparently not been able to give everyone a safe and pleasant feeling and that it has even made colleagues sick.” But: “At the same time, this article is also a draconian caricature of fifteen years of DWDD. […] I am now conveniently folded back into an Eternal Tantrum. And I didn’t think that was me.” He also praises his “daily program full of zest for life, optimism and imagination.”

Broadcaster BNNVARA, that DWDD produced, says in a response that the management has had discussions with former editors. “A number of (former) colleagues indicate in no uncertain terms that their boundaries have been crossed. We are shocked by that and it is very dear to us.” BNNVARA acknowledges that the pressure to perform was high within the editorial staff of the program and that the response was not timely. “The editors and presenter should have been called to account for their behavior. The fact that this did not happen at the time is painful for the (former) colleagues who are affected.”

State Secretary Gunay Uslu (Culture and Media, D66) said in a response that “the described behavior is unacceptable in all situations”. And success is never an excuse for unacceptable behavior. Uslu states that public broadcasting must guarantee a safe workplace, which is why she has asked NPO chairman Frederieke Leeflang to conduct an investigation. She also wants an action plan “with concrete steps to prevent this in the future and to change this behavior”.

Thomas Bruning, secretary of the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), says to ANP news agency that “temporary and mediocre freelance contracts” were the basis for not daring to report abuses. According to Bruning, the troubles at DWDD are an example of the unsafe work culture that prevails in Hilversum.

The succes

The success of DWDD made Van Nieuwkerk (Amsterdam, 1960) one of Hilversum’s most important TV makers. Before he came to television, he was editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam newspaper The parole. He now makes the music programs Chansons!, Top 2000 à Go-Go and the Saturday night show Matthijs Continues. In response to the news, broadcaster NTR has decided to cancel the recordings of Saturday night’s Top 2000 Quiz.

The Volkskrant article about the culture of fear contrasts with the many praises that have appeared in the press about DWDD so far. The program paid a lot of attention to culture and could give artists or TV makers an important boost. Former TV critic for NRC Arjen Fortuin called DWDD: “one of the monuments of Dutch TV history, and by far the most influential program of the twenty-first century.” According to him, the success lay largely with Van Nieuwkerk: “The program is unthinkable without his ambition to get the most out of every broadcast day, his journalistic instinct, the ability to present at a killer pace, and his desire to admire.”

That misconduct and abuse of power, such as that at DWDD, is seen as newsworthy ‘transgressive behaviour’, is fairly recent. Since the MeToo movement, sexual misconduct has become more exposed, and in its wake other forms of workplace misconduct. Earlier, for example, publisher Mai Spijkers was discredited because of this. Actress Maryam Hassouni recently published a revealing book about racism, sexism, and transgressive behavior in the television and film industry.

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