‘BNNVara let the success of the program prevail over the well-being of the people’

Matthijs van Nieuwkerk during a promo for De Wereld Draait Door in 2018.Image ANP / Julie Hrudova

Yes, something was wrong with it The world goes on (DWDD) Janke Dekker knew. But that so many employees of the popular talk show had to deal with transgressive behavior was a shock, says the chairman of Mores.online, the reporting center for undesirable behavior in the creative sector.

The hotline was set up in 2018 after a number of scandals were exposed in the media at theater companies, actor training courses and a casting agency. Since then, theater makers, filmmakers and employees of television programs have been able to report abuses there.

In the first year and a half, 42 reports were received, says Dekker, who works as a theater producer in addition to her board position at the reporting center. This year, the counter was already at 190 in June, partly due to the revelations about sexual misconduct The Voice of Holland. There are now 240. ‘There is a shift going on in what we find acceptable,’ she says. ‘As a result, more people are willing to make a report.’

Mores.online also received reports about Matthijs van Nieuwkerk and DWDD?

‘We do not make any announcements about the reports that we receive. Because we guarantee our reporters absolute confidentiality. And no, I can’t say whether it’s the same with other programs.’

What do you offer the people who report to you?

‘Our confidential advisers listen carefully to the stories of the reporters. They do so in an empathetic way. We don’t do truth-finding either. Then people feel attacked or not heard. Many of them have already received annoying questions. Aren’t you hypersensitive? Couldn’t you have done this or that better? That’s victim blaming. While you have to take reporters seriously. They already have to cross a threshold before they even make a report.

And what happens afterwards?

‘Once the emotion has subsided, we look at what follow-up steps are possible: a conversation with the perpetrator, for example, a process of mediation or criminal proceedings.’

What struck you when you read the story about the program’s toxic work environment?

‘BNNVara’s response to the signals that something was wrong. The reporters were structurally ignored by the management of broadcasting. And not at the health and safety service either. He offered people a coaching program. As if that makes the workplace safer! No one seemed to pay attention to what caused the insecurity. That’s shocking. Gross negligence on the part of the employer.’

How do you explain that?

‘The broadcaster allowed the success of the program to prevail over the well-being of the people, while both can coexist. They could have solved a lot by talking or doing mediation. People work under high pressure in television. Sometimes tempers run high. But if it’s that structural, then there’s more to it. Then action must be taken. But that didn’t happen, despite people sounding the alarm.’

Is that exceptional?

We see it in other organizations as well. They have the protocols and hotlines in order, but never thought about the consequences if something really big happens. How much is it worth to an organization to create a safe workplace? And in the worst case, could that mean saying goodbye to a star presenter?’

Van Nieuwkerk writes in a response that he is very sorry. He calls the article a mirror that hangs in his room.

‘That doesn’t help the reporters very much. I also think it is not appropriate that in his response he draws attention to the success of the program. You apologize or you don’t. You may be able to name the success again later, if you go deeper into the events. But not at the moment. The timing is wrong. At the same time, I think that Van Nieuwkerk is also the victim of poor management. He should have been held accountable for his behavior by the employer. If that had happened earlier and more often, it might not have escalated so much.’

Earlier this year, reports of sexually transgressive behavior came to the fore The Voice of Hollandnow about unsafe working atmosphere at DWDD. Is the latter less bad?

You should never compare suffering with suffering. But if you are verbally abused in your face en plein public, then this is verbal abuse. You can damage people to the bone with that. If it is structural, a culture of fear is created in which you have to be on your guard all the time. That causes incredible stress.’

To what extent do the short-term contracts of editors contribute to the emergence of such a culture of fear?

‘The entire cultural sector runs on freelancers and people with freelance contracts. As a result, job insecurity is very high, resulting in excesses such as in DWDD can continue to exist. If you have a short-term contract, you will not cause a problem three months before it expires. Before you know it you will get the stamp that you are difficult. And that’s going to get around because it’s a small sector. There is a chance that you will no longer be able to work. So something has to change in the system. That is the only way to create safety.’

There will be a covenant from NPO, Talpa and RTL, among others, containing guidelines on desirable behavior and a safe working environment. Do you have high expectations for that?

‘It is a unique collaboration, because these parties have never sat down at the same table before. We also talk. That covenant, which is almost finished, will be the first step towards improvement. We lay down guidelines on which everyone can hold each other accountable. I think it’s a positive development.’

This isn’t going to be a paper tiger?

‘It has to start with a paper tiger. Because if we don’t record anything, arbitrariness arises. Then people are sent away after one complaint and without giving a reason. We don’t want that either.’

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