AMSTERDAM — The Dutch government is planning to hand down guidelines that TV journalists in this country fear could restrict their rights to investigate breaking news stories.
Dutch TV journalists have come under scrutiny in the last 18 months since the launch of a raft of new commercial channels have created cutthroat competition, even among news reporting teams on the same channel.
A decade ago, when the media landscape was dominated by public broadcasting companies, there was virtually only one newscaster, NOS Journal. Now three commercial channels as well as the public stations compete with each other for news.
Holland’s Ministry of Internal Affairs says it is drawing up guidelines for police and ambulance services to handle the press after several incidents over the last year in which it was claimed that TV reporters or their crew came too close during an emergency situation, allegedly complicating rescue procedures.
Out of control
In one situation several weeks ago, a crew from a Dutch station were attacked by relatives of accident victims after a situation between the press and police reportedly got out of control.
Some TV journalists, however, believe the guidelines and the charges of the press overstepping the line may be a red herring.
“It’s a way to stop reporters from investigating incidents that the public has a right to know about,” says one media analyst. “This all began with the Hercules crash a year ago in Eindhoven (which ended in a number of deaths). Reporters were not allowed to get anywhere near the scene of the accident and months later when journalists pressed for investigation, it came to light that the rescue teams acted too late.”
Code of conduct
At least one Dutch commercial station, SBS6, says it has been working internally on its own code of conduct for TV journalists, one expected to be similar to that followed by the BBC or ABC.
That code will be submitted to an independent body for review before it is adapted. Says SBS6 general manager Fons van Westerloo, “The code is not only so that we can be clear with our own people but also because we want the production companies we work with to be clear on the ethical and legal positions we have.”