Nowadays, the Netherlands has one of the most independent media systems which is indicated by the fact that this country is ranked the fifth in World Press Freedom Index of 2017 (Reporter Without Borders, 2017). At the same time, the Dutch regulatory bodies have a considerable influence on the media system, but political pressure on journalists is practically non-existent. The Dutch media system is closely connected to the tradition of “pillarization” which in the past divided the society into different religious or ideological groups (or pillars), all of them having their own institutions including media. Compared to other European states, the Netherlands is a newspaper-reading country, despite the fact that newspaper circulation is gradually declining (European Journalism Centre, 2017). All of the printed press in the Netherlands is privately owned, while broadcasting is divided into two parts: public service and commercial. For a long time only public service broadcasting existed and it is still of considerable importance, although commercial broadcasting is becoming more popular. The following report is based on document analysis, annual reports of Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders as well as interviews with four experts conducted in July 2017.
Communication policy and regulations
Legislation Apart from the Declaration of Freedom of Speech and Press in the Constitution in 1848, a turning point in the history of Dutch press was a subsequent cancellation of a stamp duty levied on newspapers. For a long time this huge tax gave an opportunity only to elites to read press. Moreover, this let the government control the content of print media. After the abolition of a stamp duty in 1869, the media market changed drastically and the quantity of national newspapers increased from 41 to 62 in just two years. Today Dutch media are influenced a lot by economic factors while political pressure on the media almost does not exist in this country. Nevertheless, Hallin and Mancini define the Netherlands as belonging to Democratic Corporatist Model characterized by an appreciable role of the government. That accounts for a considerable influence of an authority on media regulation although the Dutch legislation does not interfere directly with media content. This impact is limited to such regulations as the distribution of air time quotas, direct state assistance to mass media which aims to secure the plurality of ideas and monitor the illegal content (Gladkova, 2015: 22-34).
As in most democratic countries Dutch medias’ functioning is inherently determined by the Constitution. The seventh article states that everybody is entitled to “publish thoughts or opinions through the press” without prior permission. In addition, the basic law guarantees the right of information. It must be emphasized that according to the WJP Open Government Index in 2015, the Netherlands was ranked the fifth in the world in government transparency. At the same time, there are some limits and responsibility of different wrongdoings in Dutch legislation. For example, in spite of the fact that a blasphemy law was repealed in 2013, defamation and insult are still criminal offenses. Nevertheless, accusations of such kinds of violations are uncommon (Freedom House, 2016). “You can go far over red lines”, confirms media researcher Harrie Kiekenbosch in the interview. Another fundamental law is the Dutch Media Act of 2008. Unlike the previous version, the new act holds public broadcasters accountable for websites, digital channels and services offered by mobile platforms, as well as for radio and television (Council of Europe/ERICarts). The Media Act also sets particular requirements for public and commercial broadcasters in terms of providing diversity on radio and TV channels and distribution of air time. It also limits advertising and sponsorship and prohibits broadcasting programmes which are harmful to children and teenagers.
However, the laws passed recently also influence the media landscape. In September 2014, the Dutch lawmakers issued two bills in response to criticism from the European Convention on Human Rights for violation regarding journalists and journalistic sources protection. Additionally, in February 2017, the government passed some amendments to the Intelligence and Security Act. The changes guarantee source protection, but there are serious concerns that they can potentially lead to violations of the right to privacy (Amnesty International, 2016/2017). At the same time, the Dutch government presented the bill An Integrated Approach to Jihadism in August 2014. The act includes monitoring the online distribution of material that “encourages violence, radicalization or hatred,” and taking action if the material is not voluntarily removed. Later the intelligence agency has been charged with the abuse of data gathering on suspected extremist sites but the government stated that they acted within the legal boundaries (Freedom House, 2015).
Regulatory Bodies The main regulation authority overseeing the media is the independent Commissariaat voor de Media (CvdM) founded in 1988 in order to shield mass media from the government. CvdM controls the observance of the media law including awarding licenses to commercial broadcasters, supervising public and commercial broadcasters’ programming commitments as well as advertising and sponsorship restrictions. However, CvdM can influence only the broadcasters registered in the Netherlands. Therefore, such TV-stations as RTL 4, RTL 5, RTL 7 and RTL 8 entering the media company RTL Nederland are practically independent from CvdM, because their licence is issued by Luxembourg (Gladkova, 2015: 23). The Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) is another regulatory body belonging to the media sector. It appeared in 2013 from the merging of a few other bodies. The united body is responsible for competition and consumer protection.
The Raad voor de journalistiek (the Netherlands Press Council) is an independent body of media self regulation and works on complaints about journalistic activities. It was set up by the Netherlands Press Council Foundation, in which all significant media organizations such as the Netherlands Union of Journalists participate (Brochure of the Netherlands Press Council).
Financial support Furthermore, in order to assure the plurality in the media sector, the Dutch government provides the financing and granting. Such support is especially relevant for the printed press as the Netherlands is still included in the group of newspaper countries in spite of the fact that print media circulation in it is becoming lower year by year. The direct subsidy can be given to core publications such as opinion newspapers, media for immigrants, newspapers in a language of national minorities, etc. State support also affects journalistic education, research and technological innovations. Indirect subsidies aim at decreasing postal and selling rates (Gladkova, 2015: 30-31).
In 1974 a special fund for press was established. Stimuleringsfonds voor de Journalistiek (The Dutch Journalism Fund) “supports the quality, diversity and independence of journalism in The Netherlands by promoting innovation” (Stimuleringsfonds voor de Journalistiek). Another one was founded in 1986 and is called Coproductiefonds Binnenlandse omroep (The Co-production Fund National Public Broadcasting). It financially supports public broadcasters in order to bring cinematography and television together.
Printed Press Among other European countries the Netherlands is considered to be a newspaper-reading country. At the beginning of the 21st century, 50 per cent of advertisement in media was in printed press and only 20 per cent in TV (Vartanova, 2003), although the circulation and the number of readers are declining every year following the general European trend, nowadays. To understand the Dutch printed press system it is essential to be aware of some phenomena from Dutch history.
Due to harsh political perturbations in the middle of the 19th century Dutch society was divided in special formations – pillars. There were four of them – protestant, catholic, socialist and liberal. Each of them had its own social institutions: political parties, trade unions, banks, schools and newspapers, which circulation was steadily growing (Kranten, 1974: 166). This system was stable until the end of World War II, when socialists and liberals began to argue in favor of depillarization (Deschouwer, 2001: 205-221). But pillars were strongly rooted into the Dutch society and could not be exterminated at one glance. Nowadays, the system of pillars is considered to be a thing of the past, although it still echoes in the modern Netherlands, influencing people’s media preferences.
Todays Netherlands printed press market is not big. There are few main national daily newspapers: De Telegraaf, AD-dagbladen, De Volkskrant and NRC Handelsblad; also there is the main free daily: Metro. Before 2014, there was another strong player on the free newspaper market – Spits with circulation reaching 430.000 copies in 2007, but in 2014 the publication was ceased. It is important to note that the cumulative annual circulation of daily newspapers in the Netherlands is gradually declining: 1.327 million copies in 2010, 1.2 million in 2011, 1.08 million in 2013 and 936 million in 2015 (Mediamonitor.nl, 2017). 80 per cent of printed press is distributed through subscription, others through retail or in other ways. The percentage of free and paid newspapers has also been changing through years in favor of paid ones: in 2011 free newspapers had 21.1 per cent of market share and in 2015 only 11 per cent (Mediamonitor.nl, 2017).
There are two main mediagroups in the Netherlands: Telegraaf Media Groep and De Peresgroep. Telegraaf Media Groep has always been the biggest one as it owns the most popular newspaper in the country – De Telegraaf. Anyway, the Peresgroepp has now become the largest provider in the Dutch newspaper market. The Belgian publisher has increased the combined market share in the past few years from 20.9 percent in 2011 to 47.4 percent in 2015. In particular, the Volkskrant and AD newspaper increased significantly.
With a market share of 31.8 percent, Telegraaf Media Group is the second major publisher in the Dutch newspaper market nowadays. This is the proportion of De Telegraaf, Metro and the five regional HDC newspapers (Noordhollands Dagblad, Gooi en Eemlander, Leidsch Dagblad, Haarlems Dagblad and IJmuider Courant). By 2015, they had shares of 15.0, 11.0, and 5.8 per cent, respectively. The decline in the joint share relative to the previous year is mainly due to the cancellation of the free newspaper Spits.
In 2015 five titles showed growth: Metro, Nederlands Dagblad, Trouw, de Volkskrant and Het Financieele Dagblad. As in 2014, the biggest percentage loss showed nrc.next (owned by Mediahuis Nederland): this title lost more than a quarter of the circulation in one year. The Friesch Dagblad had a fall of 13 per cent and NRC Handelsblad lost 9 per cent.
All in all, the situation in the Dutch printed press marked is not a good one. Overall annual circulation of newspapers is declining every year. Papers, that had large runs ten years ago, are being closed nowadays. Less and less people read newspapers – they watch TV and surf the Internet instead.
TV and Radio In the Netherlands, broadcasting media are divided into two parts: public service and commercial. Historically, public service media has been of utter importance. It originates from the practice of “pillarisation”, each of them having its own institutions, newspapers, political parties and broadcasting (Vink, 2007).
According to Freedom House (2016b), France had an internet penetration rate of 84 per cent in Paris and about 65 per cent in smaller regions in 2015. Till 2025, to continuously simplify the access, universal coverage and high-speed broadband were promised by the government (Freedom House, 2016b).
Public service broadcasting is financed mostly from two sources: government donations raised from taxes and income from advertising. In the Netherlands, broadcasting dates back to 1951 when the first TV-program was shown. For almost forty years all television was public because commercial ones were banned until the late 1980s. Today there are three national public TV-channels (NPO 1, NPO 2, NPO 3). NPO 1 is focused on politics and news, NPO 2 is oriented on culture and art, NPO 3 is aimed at the young audience (Npo.nl, 2017).
Commercial broadcasting appeared in the late 1980s. Now there are two companies that share several commercial channels. RTL is an owner of RTL 4, RTL 5, RTL 7, RTL 8 and RTL Z. SBS owns SBS 6, SBS 9, NET 5. RTL is a Luxembourg-based media group which owns TV and radio channels not only in the Netherlands but also in Germany, Spain, France, Belgium and other European countries. RTL 4 is the most popular channel in the country, mainly watched by an audience in the age of 20 to 49 years. It is a typical infotainment channels broadcasting news, talk shows, game shows, etc. RTL 5 is even more focused on entertainment: a considerable amount of broadcasting time is devoted to popular movies and (mainly American) TV-series and Dutch versions of reality shows. RTL 7 is considered a “men’s channel” dedicated to business and sport (Rtlgroup.com, 2017).
Nowadays commercial broadcasting is becoming stronger. Although older generations prefer watching public service channels, the youth turns to commercial ones. As for the differences in the content, public broadcasting is considered more serious in tone and reporting on news, while commercial broadcasting is mainly aimed for the entertainment.
In the Netherlands, average daily TV-viewing time was 3 hours and 10 minutes in 2015 (Statista, 2017). This figure shows that TV is still the most popular media in the country. However, the Netherlands is now facing the same trend as many other countries: young people watch less TV and prefer spending more time online. As for the radio, NPO-group maintains a leading position in this sector, too. In 2013, it owned 32 per cent of the Dutch media-market (Gladkova, 2015: 44). The leader in the commercial sector is Telegraaf Media Group which owns Radio Veronica and Sky Radio. Another strong player in the market is Talpa Media which has Radio 538 and Radio 10 Gold. Radio 538 is the most popular radio station in the Netherlands. It was originally aimed at youth but in the course of the years it has broadened its target audience to include other age groups. This station broadcasts many styles of music. All in all, radio tends to lose popularity nowadays. It stopped to be the prime source of news failing in competition with TV, in the 1980s. Now, in the age of digitalisation, it is threatened not only by television, but also by new media.
Moreover, the economic part of the media system poses a far more dangerous threat. According to the results of the Media Pluralism Monitor of 2016, media ownership concentration (horizontal) scores 83% risk in the Netherlands. Another indicator shows a medium risk on cross-media concentration of ownership and competition enforcement (40%). This is happening because since 2011 Dutch media legislation preventing a concentration has no longer been acting. Moreover, there is a lack of open information on media market. (Media Pluralism Monitor, 2016).
Online media New media have recently been growing quite rapidly in many countries, and the Netherlands is no exception. This country has one of the best Internet penetration rates in the world: in 2016 93,7 per cent of the population had an access to the Internet (Internetlivestats.com, 2017). All the major Dutch newspapers have online versions, the majority of them have not introduced pay walls. Being free and accessible at any time and place these online versions of newspapers are becoming more and more popular, although a considerable number of people (mainly the older generation) prefer to read traditional newspapers. Moreover, broadcasting companies operating in the Netherlands also have online versions and their own YouTube channels (Digital News Report, 2017).
Apart from online versions of offline media, the Dutch media landscape is characterized by the presence of online media which have no analogies offline. The most popular online newspaper is NU.nl owned by the Finnish publisher Sanoma. It is ranked the 25th in the Top Dutch Sites rating yielding to Google, Facebook, Whatsapp and other global market leaders (Alexa.com, 2017) . In the last few years the process of digitalisation considerably changed the situation of the Dutch media sphere. The rapid development of platforms where people are able to express their opinion (such as Facebook) as well as the growing importance of user generated content have changed the way the news are presented and the public debate is evolving. Now, even the most popular and serious media cannot call themselves the guardians of the public debate (De Waal, 2011).
Journalistic education In the Netherlands people are not required to obtain a license or to get a special education to work in journalism. Any person can become a journalist even without education connected to the media (Media Pluralism Monitor, 2015).
Still, there is a number of schools offering programs either in journalism or in communications. Hence, a person desiring to become a journalist or doing research in the media sphere has a wide range of options. Furthermore, the government tends to support students in the communication sphere through scholarships and grants.
Traditionally, Dutch students at the bachelor level study for 4 years and master programs last for 1 year. The same is applied to journalistic education (Education system The Netherlands, 2015). The majority of journalists have a university degree, although not always in media studies. In an interview, Professor Rietman, a media and public administration consultant, recommends a person who strives to become a journalist first to get a bachelor degree in economics, sociology, history, law or psychology and then continue education at a master’s level specializing in journalism.
Self-identity, role perceptions and reputation t is extremely important to understand how journalists see themselves in the society, which roles they want to play, and vice versa how society perceives journalists and their influence on a society. As our respondents, all professional journalists with decades of working experience in the field, say, ordinary people start to mistrust journalists, : “As we speak I read more and more about people who don’t follow the news anymore, because they don’t believe journalism anymore or they are angry about the one-way-information they serve” (Harrie Kiekenbosch).
Another issue is connected to the development of technologies, especially social networks. “That is certainly for an important part due to the effects of the use of social media, which support audiences in finding and making their own news. These audiences are looking for confirmation of their opinions rather than looking for counterveiling information”, Jan Rietman says. It is a common trend in todays western world, that people are tired of being only consumers of information, they want to be creators as well.
At the same time, despite the fact that Dutch people start to turn themselves away from “classic” journalists, it is clear that media in the Netherlands are among the freest and most trusted media systems in the world. According to the World of Journalism study, most Dutch journalists feel pressure from time limits, ethics, personal values and beliefs and only 1,4 per cent of journalists feel pressure from police and state security (World of Journalism: 2016)
Limitations of journalists’ autonomy and interference in freedom of expression Dutch experts in the field of media insist on a high level of freedom of press in the country. “There are no laws limiting journalists to do their work”, emphasizes media consultant Jan Rietman. Harrie Kiekenbosch says “the freedom of expression is hundred per cent. We can say everything.” This is confirmed by the fifth rank of the Netherlands in the World Press Freedom Index 2017 (Reporters without borders, 2017).
However, it is too early to talk about a total freedom. Although it has a high result on a world scale, the Netherlands lost three points just in a year. RWB (2017) asserts that the reasons for that lie in few challenges currently appearing in the media framework. Firstly, strong recent racial and immigrant debates have lead to a real health threatening of journalists. For instance, since 2011 the discussion of a racial entity of a folklore hero and Dutch assistant of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) Black Pete has been going on in the national media. There was a part of society displeased with this African image of Pete. In 2015 and 2016, a few Dutch journalists, who took up this attitude, were faced with a storm of insulting and death threats. There were even cases of physical assaults of reporters (Mapping Media Freedom, 2017). Another incident concerns public debates on granting refugee asylum in small towns all over the country. In February 2016, a number of journalists reported that they had been banned from this meetings or prohibited to record an audio or video during the debates (Mapping Media Freedom, 2017). In addition, as everywhere in Europe today there is an issue of terroristic threat of uttermost importance. Therefore, secondly, antiterrorist measures in the legislation mentioned in the first part were taken, which expanded powers of government intelligence and security services in meddling in private life.
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