The Netherlands

last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 5th out of 180 (RSF, 2020)
Population: 17.1m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 7% (1.15m; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: 825.75bn USD (Statista, 2019)
EU member: since January 1, 1958 (EUROPA, 2020)
Official languages: Dutch (EUROPA, 2020)

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes the Netherlands as a “free” country with a total score of 99 out of 100 (Freedom House, 2020). This score is split 40/59 for political rights and for civil liberties (Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom House did not have a “narrative report” for 2020, and the most recent one is from 2019. This report shows that political rights and civil liberties have a long tradition of government protection through a parliamentary democracy (Freedom House, 2019). However, cultural tensions around immigration and Muslim minorities, as well as more stringent policies on asylum seekers have created increasing political controversy (Ibid.). 2018 saw the passing into law the Intelligence and Security Services Act, which allows the government to access telephone and internet access records (Ibid.). Also in the same year, restrictions on the public’s right to assemble were put into place based on concerns for public safety, and separately, a ban on the use of burqas or niqabs was put into place public buildings (schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings; Ibid.). The “Civil Liberties” section of the report called “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, acknowledges that there is a high degree of press freedom and independence in the Netherlands. However, an incident of an investigative journalist having his phone records seized during the course of a police investigation into a government leak demonstrated the importance of the Source Protection Act that protects journalist confidentiality (Ibid.; EFJ, 2018). Additionally, the rise of populist parties threaten the legitimacy of news workers and news media (RSF, 2019). Dutch government funding of €20m over four years from 2019 has been given to help support investigative journalism, of which 75% is to go towards local and regional journalism (Costera Meijer and Kormelink, 2019).

Media landscape

Newspapers and market

In 2010, the Netherlands had 9 paid-for newspapers and 18 paid-for regional newspapers (Pleijter et al., 2012: 243). There were three free daily newspapers, Sp!ts and Metro, which were founded in 1999, and De Pers, founded in 2007 (Ibid.), but only one has survived since 2016 (Metro; Bakker, 2017). Newspaper ownership is highly concentrated (BBC, 2016), with two Belgian publishers (De Persgroep and Mediahuis) owning 80% of newspaper circulation (Bakker, 2017). An online-only news site, Nu.nl, reaches a third of the population on a monthly basis (Pleijter et al., 2012). Key daily newspapers are: Algemeen Dagblad (tabloid), De Telegraaf (tabloid), de Volkskrant (quality), Het Financieele Dagblad (financial news), NRC Handelsblad (quality), and Trouw (category tbc; BBC, 2016). The Algemeen Dagblad has one national edition and seven regional editions (Bakker, 2017). One-time weekly, Vrij Nederland, is now a magazine offering an online subscription and a promise that it will enable readers to “Read less, read better”, with one daily article, which is sent by email or through WhatsApp (Costera Meijer and Kormelink, 2018). Like in the other country contexts, print news subscriptions are declining, whereas digital subscriptions have increased by 20% (Ibid.). Like the other countries, Dutch users are very much online, with a 96% internet penetration rate (Costera Meijer and Kormelink, 2019). The current situation of the newspaper media in the Netherlands is much like in the other country contexts, in terms of the technological shifts in how news is produced and consumed, but also in terms of how newspapers are no longer able to generate revenue from advertising and classified ads (Pleijter et al., 2012: 242). This then means newspapers as a traditional news form have had to scale down and decrease the size of their newsrooms (Pleijter et al., 2012), in response to the number of people reading a daily newspaper, which dropped below 50% in 2015 (Bakker, 2017).

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in the Netherlands (Newman et al., 2019: 96). The main public broadcaster, NOS ranks at the top at 62% for tv, radio, and print, and 27% for online; and website NU.nl is first for online at 43%. In terms of the top four newspapers, Algemeen Dagblad (tabloid, popular) was at 25% for online and 15% for print, De Telegraaf (tabloid, popular) was at 23% for online and 18% for print, (unnamed) regional and local newspapers were at 12% for online and 19% for print, de Volkskrant (broadsheet, quality) was at 7% for online and 9% for print, and Metro was 5% for online and 11% for print (Ibid.: 96). Since the Dutch news media market is so diverse, the list between TV, radio and print brands does not run parallel to the online news brands, mainly because the latter, for example, include alternative news sources such as blogs as well as international ones such at the BBC.

Public service media

The Dutch public broadcaster Nederlandse publieke omroep (NPO, 2018), is said to have set a standard for commercial media, and it benefits from a high level of public trust (Costera Meijer and Kormelink, 2018). The NPO’s licenses are controlled by the Commissariaat voor de Media (CvdM), which was founded in 1988 (Bakker, 2017). Also, “fake news” does not seem to be a concern in Dutch media. However, NPO, broadcasted an event in 2018 called “News or Nonsense” to address the issue (Costera Meijer and Kormelink, 2018). Public broadcast programming is run by groups that are interest-, religious-, or politically-orientated, and given airtime according to their membership numbers (BBC, 2016), and every region has a local public TV channel (BBC, 2018). Funding for public broadcasting has decreased in recent years (Bakker, 2017), however, in 2019 NPO was given €40m by the Dutch government as compensation for poor returns on advertising revenues (Costera Meijer and Kormelink, 2019).

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Dutch news was at 53%, with the Netherlands ranking 4th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 97). The most trusted sources of news are NOS News (public broadcaster), and RTL (broadcaster), and the least trusted are Linda News and GreenStijl (Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the most trusted brand for news is public broadcaster NOS (7.42), and the top five brands following this are RTL News (6.89), NU.nl (6.75), Algemeen Dagblad (6.68), de Volkskrant (6.65), and NRC Handelsblad (6.61; Ibid.).

In 2016, 1,020 Dutch participants took part in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy (Eurobarometer, 2016: factsheet for the Netherlands). Here, 84% of participants thought that the national media represented a “diversity of views and opinions”, and 61% thought that the media were “free from political or commercial pressure” (Ibid.). Likewise, 55% thought that public broadcasting services were free from political influence (Ibid.). General trust in news was at 73%, reliability in television was at 79%, radio at 84%, and newspapers (both print and online) at 83%; however, trust in social media platforms was low at 22% (Ibid.). A low number of participants were aware of regulatory bodies at 11%, with 67% thinking that they were free from political or commercial influence (Ibid.). In the study, 33% of Dutch respondents thought that journalists, bloggers, and social media users were the targets of hate speech and abuse, the second-highest national percentage out of the 28 countries involved in the study (Ibid.).

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week”: NU.nl (43%), MSN News (7%), Geen Stijl (6%), and Linda News (4%; Newman et al., 2019: 97).

A key digital entrant from the Dutch context is De Correspondent (The Correspondent). Launched in 2013, it was the first crowdfunded digital entrant to achieve 19,000 supporters in five months, with a start-up budget of $1.7m (De Correspondent, 2019). It is entirely member-funded and ad-free with 52 full-time staff, and supported by some 60,000 members (Ibid.). The editorial is driven by balanced, long-form articles, where “De Correspondent journalists are expected to spend up to 40% of their working time in conversation with members, asking readers for expertise and seeking sources” (Gabbatt, 2018). Also, “Conversation Editors” facilitate communication between members and correspondents to help develop the editorial, as well as engage in minority groups to contribute to comments (Costera Meijer and Kormelink, 2018). Its US counterpart, The Correspondent, is scheduled to start up on September 30th, 2019 (De Correspondent, 2019). At the time of writing, the US-version has some 48,000 members from over 130 countries; with its homepage stating: “News as we know it leaves us cynical, divided, and less informed. We’re building a movement for radically different news. And we can’t do it without you” (The Correspondent, 2019). Interestingly, the 2017 report for the Netherlands for the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM), cited De Correspondent as a media outlet that was “hogging audiences”; and as a consequence, there was a need to “increase media viability, taking into account that the public’s attention is shifting towards nonlinear consumption of entertainment/information and to the internet platform” (Rossini, 2018: 13).

Current studies and context

Hallin and Mancini’s model of media systems (2004), describes the Netherlands as having a Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model, which is “characterised by a strong mass press, a high degree of political parallelism, professional journalism, and strong public service” (Harrie, 2018: 13), however, like all the countries, is also grappling with changes and influences from the digital realm.

Recent data on risks to media pluralism show that the Netherlands is overall ranked as “low risk”, in terms of basic protection (13%), political independence (23%), and social inclusiveness (32%); however, results showed that it has “medium risk” when it concerns market plurality (46%; Rossini, 2018: 4-12). The “medium risk” of market plurality in the Dutch context has to do with “a strong media ownership concentration” and a lack of legislation on media ownership disclosure (Ibid.: 13).

In terms of the current RSF rankings, the Netherlands is listed as 5th (out of 180) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, a drop from 4th in 2019 (RSF, 2020). Although the Netherlands is a safe place to be a journalist, recent cultural and political shifts have increased threats to journalists, particularly those covering immigration issues (More on this below; RSF, 2019).

The most recent Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 states that although trust in brands, including the still top-ranking public broadcaster as the most trusted for news, is still very high, there are increasing concerns about misinformation and the separation of news and propaganda (Costera Meijer and Kormelink, 2019). In this instance the Minister of the Interior is hesitant in initiating legislation in this area, particularly concerning advertisement and financial support of parties, opting instead for self-regulation (Ibid.). In 2019 the government launched initiatives to educate the public more on identifying the relationship between disinformation and how digital algorithms work, and the report speaks about a joint study between de Volkskrant and De Correspondent, which showed that the more people viewed radical content on YouTube, the subsequent suggestions were increasingly radical in content, as well as arguing that YouTube had more radical right content than radical left content available (Ibid.). The report also wrote about news organisation innovating with digital content by creating daily podcasts. For example, commercial broadcaster RTL provides users with a two-minute synopsis of the news as a part of a “7am wake-up service” via WhatsApp (Ibid.).

Regulatory environment

On the Dutch government’s website, a dedicated page about “Supervision of the media” outlines the jurisdiction of the Dutch Media Authority, which includes both public and commercial broadcasters (Government of the Netherlands, 2020). The Dutch Media Authority monitors if broadcasters are in compliance with the Media Act 2008 over items that include rules on matters such as advertising and due coverage of Dutch and Frisian content (Ibid.). These activities are taken retrospectively after content has been broadcast, in order to prevent government interference or influence on programming content (Ibid.). Transgression of the rules can result in a fine of up to €225,000, the reduction of airtime (for public broadcasters), or reduced broadcast permissions (for commercial broadcasters), or specific instructions and orders (Ibid.). The Dutch Media Authority does not have any of its pages available in English (Commissariaat voor de Media, 2020).

The press council

The Dutch press council, the Raad voor Journalistiek, was set up in 1960 (Ríos et al., 2018: 226). At the time when the Dutch press council was set up as the Court of Honour, it had the authority to issue warnings, reprimands, suspension of membership, or even expulsion (Jones, 1980: 28). The press council is a self-regulatory body, and it typically handles complaints that have already gone through a given media organisations’s complaint system (Bakker, 2017). Recently the Dutch press council has faced challenges in having its verdicts and moral authority recognised by companies (Ríos et al., 2018: 225). Digital journalism is included in the Dutch codes of ethics, in terms of general principles being applicable, as well as user-generated content and sources that are open-access; like Wikipedia (Díaz-Campo and Segado-Boj, 2015: 738, 740).

The structure of the press council is based in its parent foundation called the Stichting Raad voor de Journalistiek, which consists of four types organisations: the “Netherlands Union of Journalists (NVJ), the Netherlands Society of Chief-Editors (Nederlands Genootschap van Hoofdredacteuren), several co-ordinating organisations of printed press, and (co-ordinating) organisations of public and commercial broadcasting” (Raad voor de Journalistiek, 2020). The board of the Stichting Raad voor de Journalistiek selects the Chairman (who is a “a high-profile journalist”), members, and secretaries, where there are four vice-chairmen (who are “members of the judiciary”), ten members that are journalists, and ten members that are not journalists, and the secretary and deputy secretary (both of whom must be lawyers; Ibid.). The board of the Stichting Raad voor de Journalistiek has authority of the press council’s regulations (Ibid.).

The press council has developed a guidebook for good journalistic practice, where the “the aim of this guidebook is to contribute to the transparency and the surveyability [sic] of the judgements of the Press Council on behalf of the professionals and the public” (Raad voor de Journalistiek, 2020; Access the guidelines here: Raad voor de Journalistiek, 2018). On the basis of an internal report called “Press councils of Western Europe” (Koene, 2009), the press council added five members of the public who work in the realm of civil society (Raad voor de Journalistiek, 2020). The press council has struggled with “criticism about its organisation” and has implemented new elements such as temporary funding to pay for additional administrative support, and changing the requirement of the Chairman being a lawyer to the Chairman being a journalist, simplifying wording in their decisions, not publishing decisions from bodies that do not want to be under the rule of the press council, as well as asking complainants to complain to the relevant outlet first before raising a case with the press council (Ibid.).

Recent press council report/cases

Only directly affected parties can submit a complaint to the press council, and they must be submitted within six months (Raad voor de Journalistiek, 2020). A mission statement reads as follows:

The complaint must concern journalistic practice of either a professional journalist or someone who, on a regular basis and for remuneration, collaborates on the editorial content of a mass medium.

Besides, the Press Council cannot treat complaints concerning the maintaining of the standard of good taste or general complaints against the press. The complaint always must be in regard of a specific matter, as far as journalistic practice is concerned.

Since the change from a disciplinary council to a council of opinion the Press Council no longer can impose a sentence on the journalist. Neither can the Press Council assure the complainant financial compensation. The Press Council gives its opinion on a complaint and publishes its decision on its website and in the professional magazine for journalists. Also it circulates its decisions on a wide scale by sending it to the national news agency and to several other media.

As a satisfaction to the complainant and as a contribute [sic] to the debate on journalistic ethics, it is of great importance that media publish the opinions of the Press Council, especially those on valid or partially valid complaints. The number of media, which actually publish in valid and partially valid cases, is now around two-third[s], and still growing. (Raad voor de Journalistiek, 2020)

Information on recent cases is not available in English from the Dutch press council.

Other bodies and codes of ethics

The Netherlands Association of Journalists (NVJ) is a union that includes a legal division and running education programmes (RSF, 2019). It does not have any webpages in English, and a cursory check of its structure did not show any dedicated pages about codes of ethics that are specific to the organisation (NVJ, 2020), however further details are above.

Journalism culture

The Dutch media market has a strong level of journalist professionalization, where public media are highly valued, and media and politics are separated (Ríos et al., 2018: 228). Equally, journalists are also shifting towards a digital-centric media ecology, which increases engagement from the public but also potentially decreases journalism’s credibility (Hermans, 2016: 5). The impact of social media and user-generated content (Ibid.), provokes an “existential crisis” for Dutch journalism today (Pleijter et al., 2012: 242).

In the Netherlands, journalists are trained, typically with a professional Bachelor’s degree in journalism (47.1%), or with a Master’s degree (33.5%; Hermans, 2016). The number of freelance journalists is increasing in the Dutch context, while the number of traditional journalists is decreasing (Pleijter et al., 2012: 244). Also like in other country contexts, the Dutch government has been working to incentivise local and regional media, as well junior journalists, by offering state support (Ibid.). Formal education in journalism started in 1968 at the School vor de Journalistiek in Utrecht, with five programmes running at a Master’s level at different Dutch universities (Ibid.: 246,244). Like in Denmark, journalists were typically trained as apprentices first in a newsroom, before moving on to writing roles (Ibid.: 246). Interestingly, journalism as an object of research is something new to Dutch academia, with large studies on journalists only commencing in the early 2000s (Ibid.: 245).

In the Worlds of Journalism Study for the Netherlands (n=522), Dutch participants had worked an average of 18.73 years as journalists, with beat journalists typically covering culture, economics, and local news (Hermans, 2016). In general, Dutch journalists adhere strongly to a value of factual and objective reporting (Ibid.: 2). In the study, the categories that most participants responded to in terms of values (i.e. more than 50% responding “extremely” and “very important”) were: “Report things as they are (92.9%), Provide advice, orientation and direction for daily life (72.1%), Tell stories about the world (69.4%), Be a detached observer (64.9%), Provide analysis of current affairs (64.8%), Let people express their views (59.8%; Ibid.). With regards to professional ethics, almost all of the participants in the study “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” that they must respect codes of professional ethics in every instance (88.7%), and over half thought “what is ethical in journalism depends on the specific situation” (68.5%), a little under half thought that “it is acceptable to set aside moral standards if extraordinary circumstances require it” (49.7%), and a smaller number thought that ethics came down to the individual’s judgement (45.8%; Ibid.: 3).

The Netherlands is a safe place to be a journalist, where in 2018 a law was passed that allows journalists to maintain secrecy, even if they are called upon as criminal witnesses (RSF, 2018). However, the current media context is highly charged with a polarising effect from debates on immigration and multiculturalism (Ibid.). In a recent report by the Dutch Federation of Journalists (NVJ), called “A threatening climate” (Een dreigend klimaat), Dutch journalists currently face abuse and physical threats (Ibid.). Additionally, the 2017 Intelligence and Security Services Act (WIV) has raised concerns from journalists about anonymity and safety, as it permits communication interception, including phone tapping (Ibid.).

There have been a number of pressures on journalistic norms and practices in the Dutch context. These include citizen journalism, online journalism, blogs, user-generated content, as well as the advent of reality-TV and the perception that news is more sensationalised (Pleijter et al., 2012: 244). One negative impact of the internet means that journalists turn to search engines to research news, as opposed to a more proactive, fieldwork approach (Ibid.: 245). In 2006, shared journalistic roles for journalists in the Dutch context typically regard the importance of interpreting facts and events with information that the public needs, but there is still an attachment to a “gatekeeper” role (Pleijter et al., 2012: 252). The context of the Dutch media ecology in the 2010s means that the public acts as “‘prosumers’ of media content; they produce, select, share, and distribute whatever they like or think is important” (Ibid.).

Other information

Governing framework
Constitutional monarchy (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2018)

Parliament
Staten-Generaal

Seats in parliament
150 (Staten-Generaal, 2019a)

Last election
2017; next election: March or May 2021 (Kiesraad, 2019)

Seats held by women
36% (The World Bank, 2018)

Coalition government
People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Democrats 66 (D66), The Christian Democratic Appea (CDA), Christian Union (CU; Henley, 2017)

Populist party
Party for Freedom (PVV)

Origins of minority groups in 2018
Iraq, Morocco, Syria, Turkey (Minority Rights, 2019)

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press

  • No one shall require prior permission to publish thoughts or opinions through the press, without prejudice to the responsibility of every person under the law (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2018).

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model

Key events
2016: Geert Wilders (PVV) is convicted for inciting discrimination against Moroccans in his 2014 campaign (BBC, 2018).
2017: Turkish ministers are blocked from campaigning due to fears that this might polarise the Turkish expat community, leading Erdoğan to cite the country as a “Nazi remnant” (Reuters, 2017).
2017: PM Mark Rutte convenes a coalition government after a record 225 days (BBC, 2018).
2017: US ambassador Pete Hoekstra says that there are “no go zones” in the Netherlands, but he later said it was “fake news” (Belam, 2017).
2018: A recent scandal was a debate about the cultural practice of “Black Pete”, who is a white man in blackface in an annual festival. The issue was between activists who say that the tradition celebrates slavery and enforces racists stereotypes, and those who say it’s Dutch tradition (de Vries, 2018).
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on the Netherlands.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on the Netherlands.

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