NPO to slap fine on far-right broadcaster ON! over "racist" segment; Broadcaster shocked
The Dutch public broadcasting organization, NPO, is planning to impose a second financial sanction on Ongehoord Nederland (ON!). The reason for a new sanction is an edition of the broadcaster's Ongehoord Nieuws that aired in mid-September. The broadcaster came under fire for an item in which videos were shown without context of black people beating white people. The presenter said this was done to show a "less exposed aspect of racism." A second sanction could allow the state secretary for culture and media issues to pull the broadcaster's license at the NPO's request.
NPO said the broadcaster has not sufficiently prepared to cooperate "for the benefit of the national public media service." This specific broadcast "and the commotion that subsequently arose within the system and among the public," according to the NPO, "only exacerbated the lack of cooperation, as a result of which the integrity and reliability of the system have now come under heavy pressure."
The broadcasted segment and the voiceover commentary by presenter Raisa Blommestijn was seen as racist by many inside and outside the broadcasting world. The item resulted in a record number of nearly 1,700 complaints to the NPO's ombudsman. Various other broadcasters announced that they are no longer willing to collaborate, or work with ON! in the field of journalism. There were also indignant reactions from the Tweede Kamer. Earlier this month, a motion was passed calling for a review at the future of the public broadcasting system. A majority also believe that the NPO's sanctions policy should be tightened.
ON! said it was bewildered by the possible sanction, and found the concept incomprehensible. In a written statement on its website, ON! said the intended sanction is, "a direct attack on press freedom in the Netherlands and the possible death blow for our broadcaster." The broadcaster said the decision was reckless.
The broadcaster's chair, Arnold Karskens, said the explanation also showed bias regarding ON's political direction. He further said the broadcaster has always been open to cooperating on behalf of public broadcasting. "ON! has always been collegial and collaborative from the start and will continue to do so," said Karskens.
This potential second sanction is still an intended decision, but has not been finalized. ON! will be given the opportunity to provide a response within fourteen days. The NPO will then decide whether the sanction will actually be imposed and, if so, what the amount will be.
Under the Media Act, State Secretary Gunay Uslu (Media) is authorized to intervene when a second sanction is issued. Until now, she kept her distance from the issue, and stated that the decision about any steps is up to the NPO. Uslu's spokesperson confirmed that NPO can ask the state secretary to withdraw the license. She has not revealed how she would respond to such a request. "The sanction decisions are thoroughly studied, to make a careful assessment before a judgment is issued."
Blommestijn, the Ongehoord Nieuws presenter, said of the new sanction, "This is yet another direct threat to press freedom and a clearly a politically motivated attack on an opposition voice and freedom of expression. Unworthy of a democracy."
In July, NPO already imposed a sanction of more than 93,000 euros against the broadcaster, an amount equal to 2.5 percent of the established annual budget of Ongehoord Nederland. That decision was taken following the completion of a report from the ombudsman.
He ruled in the complainants' favor that ON! has a tendency to invite guests who are too one-sided, and then is insufficient when asking critical questions. It was the very first time that the NPO had imposed a financial sanction on a broadcaster in such a case. ON! objected to the sanction. The appeal procedure is still ongoing.
Reporting by ANP