Politicians demand action after critical report about far-right public broadcaster
Members of Parliament from Labour (PvdA) and D66 want national public broadcasting system NPO to take action against Ongehoord Nederland (ON!) after the NPO's ombudsman presented a second critical report about the public broadcaster. The report, released on Wednesday, stated that the broadcaster consistently violates the NPO's code regarding journalism, particularly when it comes to reliability by spreading demonstrably incorrect information.
The ombudsman, Margo Smit, also received a remarkably high number of complaints stating that an item from ON! contained racist and discriminatory content. But the Journalistic Code of the NPO does not provide a framework for this, the ombudsman noted. She argued that it may be questionable whether public broadcasting wishes to facilitate such content considering it as an organization comprised of a community of broadcasters with some shared values guided by Dutch media law, but this specific issue is not something the ombudsman oversees.
"Not everything that is legally allowed always has to be done," said Smit in her report. "The oldest existing journalistic code states as a rule 'do no harm' if it is not strictly necessary for the greater good. Whoever tries to frame that as political correctness is seriously wrong. It is simply a matter of professional ethics."
ON! still not fulfilling journalistic duties, says NPO Ombudsman
The Journalistic Code does state that information published or broadcast must be reliable and must be factchecked. The code has been endorsed by all broadcasters, including Ongehoord Nederland, and it covers all journalistic productions. According to Smit, these rules also apply to an opinion program, as Ongehoord Nieuws has called itself since the summer holidays. "A journalistic presenter has to check the reliability of claims made by a guest and question the guest about this. That journalistic role is still not fulfilled well enough by ON! presenters," said the ombudsman.
Smit received almost 1,900 reports after one broadcast of Ongehoord Nieuws mainly about an item in which a compilation of internet videos was shown without any context. The video exclusively shows incidents where people of color beat up white people. Ongehoord Nieuws stated that this was "anti-white racism," but research from Pointer showed that this had not been demonstrated in any of the clips.
Politicians respond critically
"This report from the ombudsman again reveals a worrying pattern at Ongehoord Nederland," said Sjoerd Sjoerdsma (D66) on Twitter. He said he wants a "quick and decisive response from the NPO."
Smit stated in her first report about ON! that the broadcaster frequently invites guests to appear on its programs from one side of an issue only, and without hosts asking them enough critical questions. This prompted the NPO to impose a financial sanction on the broadcaster. At the end of October, the public broadcasting system announced its intention to slap ON! with a second financial penalty for not sufficiently cooperating with other broadcasters. Both issues are separate from the second report from the NPO ombudsman, who has been a journalist for over 30 years, including 25 as an investigative reporter.
The public broadcaster has not yet announced a final decision about the second financial penalty. Ongehoord Nederland will first get an opportunity to defend itself.
As far as Mohammed Mohandis (PvdA) is concerned, after a second sanction, the NPO must ask the state secretary for media issues, Gunay Uslu, to revoke the broadcaster's license. "Twice yellow is red," said the Member of Parliament. "ON! may still create content, but not with taxpayers' money," said Mohandis. He also believes that it should be laid down by law that broadcasters must be removed from the public broadcasting system after a second financial sanction, without the Cabinet having the final say on the issue.
Stephan van Baarle of DENK also believes that the state secretary must drop ON! after a second sanction. "No place for subsidized attic room fascism on the NPO," the parliamentarian said on Twitter.
ON! calls the report "one-sided"
Ongehoord Nederland called Wednesday's report "in many cases one-sided, not demonstrable and subjective." The broadcaster stopped referring to its flagship show, Ongehoord Nieuws, as a news program, though the Dutch word meaning "news" remains in the title. The opinion program has "made a major quality improvement in recent months," the broadcaster said on its website. "However, we don't think our opinion program is, as she puts it, 'a pattern of misinformation' or violating journalistic code."
The broadcaster said it is "seriously concerned" about the "one-sidedness" of the NPO Ombudsman. "In her report, the NPO Ombudsman ignores the fact that large groups of Dutch people think differently about these themes than what is usually on other broadcasters." The broadcaster said that after initially combing through the report, it appears that "she looks at matters from the prevailing majority view" and interprets facts that way as well.
Reporting by ANP