‘I confided in a few people from VTM. Other executives were also informed, but they remained silent’

“My departure from VTM was a #MeToo story,” said Marlène de Wouters Viva lafeta , the Play4 program in which Otto-Jan Ham and Jani Kazaltzis receivewell-known guests for a short vacation in Greece. The fragment lasted no morethan three minutes, but was a bomb in the media world. I haven’t read allthose comments. I don’t have to convince anyone of the truth, I just want tohelp other victims.’

Evelyn RoelsJanuary 10, 20233:00 PM

She had an exclusivity contract, was allowed to present success programs andgot her own talk show. And yet Marlène de Wouters suddenly left VTM. ‘Becausewe were no longer on the same wavelength’, it always sounded a bit vague,until that conversation last spring Viva la feta.

Marlène De Wouters: “I never intended to talk about it on television. But I’veknown Jani for a long time, he sort of knew what happened at the time andconvinced me to tell. I could help other victims with it, he said. Thatconvinced me.”

You told how for years you refused advances from a man in a position of power.In revenge, he started to put sticks in your wheels.

De Wouters: “I thought that abuse of power was the worst. There is nothingwrong with someone making advances. But using your power to get your way, orworse, to retaliate when you don’t get your way, is sickening.

“The advances have lasted for years. That man, an executive, called me, cameinto my box, was waiting for me after work, asked me out to dinner. At first Iresponded politely – “No, thank you” – but he kept insisting. Not a hair on myhead thought about accepting his advances, so I became firmer. As a result, hestarted boycotting me. To give an example: a program that I had submittedmyself, that had already been approved and that I had been working on formonths, would suddenly be presented by someone else. I looked at it for awhile, but crawling is not my style, so I left. I received an offer from thethen channels VT4 and VIJFtv, and I started working for them.”

That all happened long before #MeToo.

De Wouters: “I keep getting the question: why have you been silent for solong? But we’re talking about twenty years ago, it was a different time. Therewas no #MeToo yet, there was no hotline where you could tell your story as avictim.

“At the time I confided in a few people from VTM. They wanted to help me, butcouldn’t do anything. Other executives were also informed, but they remainedsilent. In order not to jeopardize their own career, perhaps. That man hadpower, hey, that’s what it always comes down to.”

After your testimony, you were inundated with responses. Some thought you werebrave, others questioned your story because you had been silent for so long.

De Wouters: “I have not read the bitter reactions. What does it bring me? Bythe way, I don’t have to convince anyone, I just told my story to help othersin the same situation.

“I thought it was bad that a journalist tried to undermine my credibility. Hestarted calling around, looking for someone to contradict my story. I knowthat from, among others, Paul Jambers, with whom I was going to make a programtogether and who responded very correctly to it. The only one who let anythingslip was Rick Tubbax, who had negotiated a contract for me once during my VTMperiod. He said it wasn’t right. That he had been there during thosenegotiations, that he had heard himself that VTM wanted to take a differentdirection and that my contract had therefore not been extended. VTM confirmedthose statements, they appeared widely in the press. I almost fell off mychair. Rick had not been there at all during that meeting, he was on the otherside of the world at the time!”

How did you react?

De Wouters: “I was shocked. I talked about it with Pascale Naessens, with whomI had good contact. She advised me to just call Rick. He fell from the sky.They had called him while he was working in the garden, he said. The questionhad taken him by surprise, he had been completely mistaken and had spoken of anegotiation that had taken place years before. He apologized and sent ane-mail to the editors concerned, in which he literally said that he was in noway involved in the negotiations and that he therefore had nothing meaningfulto say about it. But the damage was done: all the media had taken over themessage, everywhere it was stated that a manager contradicted my story.Conclusion: ‘Marlène’s departure was not a #MeToo story.’ I asked thenewspaper to publish Rick’s emails as a rectification. They didn’t. “Then wewill lose face,” was their response.

“I still wonder why the then VTM management was so quick to confirm Rick’sstory, while he himself said a day later that it was not correct.”

Do you know whether more women at VTM were victims of transgressive behaviorat the time?

De Wouters: “I can’t confirm that with 100 percent certainty, but if ithappened to me, I assume there are still victims. Who may have accepted it,because that is what happens, of course.”

It’s a delicate question, but does your story show that as a woman you alsohave a voice in transgressive behaviour? That you can also say no and leave?

DeWouters: “Yes. You always have the choice. ‘ You must be the change youwish to see in the world ‘ said Gandhi. Abuse of power is sickening. But ifeveryone reacted as I did, such people would no longer be able to abuse theirpower.

“Recently there was a scandal The Voice of Holland (the program was shut downafter several complaints about sexually transgressive behavior and abuse ofpower, ed.). I read testimonials from girls and their mothers. Then I think:if my 15-year-old daughter came home with such a story, I would never acceptit, no thinking about it. I understand it’s hard when your daughter has somuch talent and wants to take her chance through such a competition, but somethings you just don’t allow. Never. Speaking up can have consequences. Look atme: I will never say that the man cracked my career – I was allowed to maketelevision for smaller channels for years – but he did give it a differenttwist. But that’s not the main thing. I can look myself in the mirror. That isworth much more to me.

“To be clear, this is not a ‘women against men’ story. I do not want to makeit seem that all men are bad, because that is obviously not the case, the vastmajority reject such behavior. And of course men are also victims.”

Have you regretted your testimony in Viva la feta?

DeWouters: “No. They portrayed it respectfully and I received a lot ofpositive reactions. On the whole episode, by the way. People who know me saidthey had seen the real Marlène. That’s a nice compliment.

“The fuss does show how much there is judging and judging nowadays. And how wedo not base ourselves on facts, but on emotions. The media encourages that.”

Finally: do you have plans for 2023?

De Wouters: “A lot! I started singing two years ago. I gave a concert twicefor a good cause, that was great, I would like to do that more. I also startedplaying drums. I don’t have my own drum kit yet – every time I have to go to afriend who does have one – but I want to buy one. I also want to learn alanguage. Spanish or Italian, maybe. I find Italian more sensual, but Spanishwill get you further, I think. I want to travel, I absolutely want to see anumber of cities in Scandinavia. And I also keep working, I often do coachingsand presentations for the European Council, the European Union and forcompanies.

“Actually, I can say that I only do the things that I like. So let me justcontinue with that in 2023.”