Interview with Daphne Koene, General Secretary of the Press Council in Netherlands
How do you assess the general situation with freedom of the media in your country?
Generally speaking, the Netherlands’ situation with freedom of the media is very good. The Netherlands is ranked 4th in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. In principle, the Dutch media are free from governmental or other interference.
Do you think that the appearance of Internet and the economic crises throughout the world had a negative influence on the quality of journalism?
I think that Internet and the economic crises have caused more pressure into the editorial rooms: more work has to be done faster by less journalists. This might affect the quality of journalistic conduct in a negative way, however this is not directly noticeable in the work of our Press Council. On the contrary, in the last two years the percentage of upheld complaints has decreased.
Does your Press Council work on appliance of professional standards only in the print media? Does it also include broadcast and online media?
The Guidelines of the Netherlands Press Council are applicable to all media. In the Preface of our Guidelines the following is stated:
The departure point of the Guidelines is that anyone engaged in journalism must take responsibilities for the information he or she distributes and the manner in which he or she operates. This is irrespective of the medium in or the platform on which this is done. The media landscape is highly dynamic and will undoubtedly continue to be so; new initiatives are created in the digital world and outside thereof. The journalistic principles and departure points have a power of expression and force of application in every medium and on every platform. The Council assumes that all journalistic organisations and all journalists recognise, acknowledge and accept the departure points formulated here.
What’s the general attitude of the media in your country towards the journalistic ethics and the self-regulatory bodies such as yours?
The whole media sector participates in the foundation of our Press council, through the Netherlands Federation of Journalists, the Netherlands Society of Chief-Editors and several (co-ordinating) organisations of press and broadcasting. Again, generally speaking, Dutch media and individual journalists are well aware of the professional ethics and behave accordingly. The Guidelines of our Council are widely accepted. Besides, the Netherlands Society of Chief-Editors and some editorial rooms have their own codes, which contain overlapping and supplementing criteria.
Is there any increase in fake news and hate speech in the media your country?
First of all, I would like to state that journalistic carelessness should not be confused with spreading disinformation for political or commercial reasons (fake news). Research shows that in our country the situation on fake news is not so bad. However, journalists (unintentional) help to distribute fake news and some social debates are influenced by ‘relevant and manifest factual errors’ that journalists disregard. The distribution of disinformation/fake news makes it more necessary for journalism to distinguish itself in professionalism. The use of hate speech in Dutch media (i.e.: in professional journalism) is rather limited.
Does the struggle of the self-regulatory bodies against hate speech in the media can be successful if it is not punished by the prosecution – court bodies?
It depends on the ‘power’ of the self-regulatory body: if a substantial part of the media accepts the self-regulatory body as an authority on this matter, then it certainly can be successful.
Do you think that the introduction of new legal constraints in the online sphere can endanger freedom of expression in Europe?
The freedom of expression is a very important human right which we must cherish. However, exercising this right might infringe another person’s human right, like the right of privacy. Therefore, freedom of expression is not absolute and unlimited. It comes with the duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights. I can imagine that it is - or will be - necessary to restrict the freedom of expression in the online sphere in order to protect – for example – the rights or reputations of others. Such legal constraints must be proportionate and comply with international human rights charters.