No repercussions for racist joke: Veronica Inside picked up for new season

Johan Derksen interviewed in April 2012
Johan Derksen interviewed in April 2012NTRdiversiteitYouTubeCC-BY

Television program Veronica Inside will begin a new season after the summer with the same host and panelists despite a racist joke by football pundit Johan Derksen that led to an early end for the show's most recent series. Musician and poet Akwasi had given an impassioned speech at a Black Lives Matter protest in Amsterdam's Dam Square at the beginning of June, where he said he used an aggressive metaphor to describe the pain and anger he feels when he sees someone wear blackface makeup to portray Zwarte Piet during the winter holidays.

The following episode of Veronica Inside, producers put on screen a photo of a man in blackface with a sign reading "Zwarte Piet Lives Matter," to which Derksen said, "Are we sure that was not Akwasi?"

The joke led to the country's top men's, women's, and youth football players saying they will no longer participate in interviews for the show. Several advertisers also pulled their sponsorship from the program. The penultimate show featured a roundtable discussion between Derksen, host Wilfred Genee, and panelist René van der Gijp, and several others brought on to talk about why the joke was insulting and contentious.

"I wonder: what was your intention?" asked Natacha Harlequin, an attorney and guest on the show. "I don't think you're a racist," she said. "But can you choose to have empathy? I am concerned about this country. Can you use empathy to understand what some people feel about such a comment?"

Derksen refused to apologize, and would only say that perhaps the hoke was misplaced. "I don't think it is relevant what Akwasi thinks about it. If that man can act like he does, then I am allowed to make such a joke," he said.

Both he and Van der Gijp were highly critical of Genee's handling of the discussion. The final episode was scrapped, with the two panelists saying they no longer wanted to participate in a future season.

The three sat with media mogul John de Mol, whose Talpa owns Veronica, the network that airs the show. "The discussions that the gentlemen had with each other and with John de Mol following the disagreement in the broadcast of 22 June on racism, formed sufficient basis to try again at the table of Veronica Inside next season," Talpa said in a statement on Friday.

In addition to being rehired for Veronica Inside starting in September, they will also present analysis for Champions League football broadcasts starting in August. 

Derksen in the past suggested that the controversy would eventually blow over. In the past, Derksen has likened Amsterdam politician Sylvana Simons to a monkey, and has repeatedly disparaged people of Moroccan descent, Turkey, and the LGBT community.

Footballer Edgar Davids said at the time, “It gets said a lot that athletes should lead by example, but that is also the case for the media, and they have an even stronger example, they are responsible for what information they feed to the public”. He added, “This is not the first time. This has been going on for three, four years. It has been discussed many times and, if it has still not gotten through to him, then there are consequences.”