All broadcasters agree with NPO journalistic plan, except Ongehoord Nederland

The new NPO policy plan for journalism has been endorsed by all broadcasters, except Ongehoord Nederland (ON). This plan, titled Focus*, should help determine the programming for the coming years and make a clearer distinction between news, current affairs and opinion. In order to present a “multicolored, relevant and valuable mix of offerings”, broadcasters will have to “deduplicate on points and fill in gaps”, according to the document that appeared online this month.

The Board of Broadcasters, advisory body to all broadcasters in the public system, also advises positively on the plan. ON director Arnold Karskens could not be reached for comment. According to some involved, he would have difficulty with the NOS’s exclusive right to news reporting. Although that is a confirmation of the role that this task broadcaster has under the Media Act. Member broadcasters are for profiling, where the task broadcasters (NOS and NTR) provide neutral news and current affairs sections. Competition within the public broadcaster on news is not in line with ‘the willingness to cooperate’ and the ‘effective use of limited resources’, it says.

According to EO director Arjan Lock, chairman of the Board of Broadcasters, ON’s ‘no’ ‘does not detract from the fact that they are also bound’ to this Journalism genre policy plan.

The refusal underlines the difficult relationship between the NPO and Ongehoord

Difficult relationship

The NPO, the central board of the public broadcaster, refers to the Board of Broadcasters with questions about the differing position of ON. Several parties involved say that the NPO board has informed the broadcasters that it regrets this refusal. Some broadcasting directors see this as confirmation of the difficult relationship between the NPO and ON.

Also read: NPO wants to impose sanction on Ongehoord Nederland after Ombudsman report

The genre policy plans are the basis for so-called ‘integral programming’. This means that the channel manager (NPO1, NPO2, NPO3) no longer becomes the most important gatekeeper for programs on television, but genre managers. They are not based on channels, but on types of programmes, such as documentary, drama, entertainment and journalism. The latter genre is in the hands of Gijs van Beuzekom, previously channel manager of NPO2.

The genre policy plan pays a lot of attention to delineating news, current affairs and opinion, but also to encouraging broadcasters to profile themselves. But: “Also, of course, represented opinions and beliefs must be based on demonstrable facts.”

Less than before, ‘sub-genres’ are allowed to overlap. The NPO now sees more and more ‘mixed forms’: “It is this shared gray area that increases the risk of misinterpretation by the public. And that is undesirable.” The ‘distinction between current affairs (truth-finding) on ​​the one hand and opinion (meaning-making) on ​​the other is of fundamental importance’, because this ‘essentially touches on the neutrality principle of our news provision and at the same time the plurality of our broadcasting system’. The public broadcaster “should be extremely careful with this distinction”.

An example of a change concerns the classification of research programme zembla (BNNVARA) and documentary program Backlight (VPRO). These programs fell under the subgenre ‘opinion (substantive perspective)’. Henceforth they are defined as current affairs programmes. As a result, the NPO writes, there is also scope within the current affairs subgenre for broadcasters ‘to put themes on the agenda and address subjects that they consider important and relevant’. But: with truth-finding first.

Also read: As a broadcaster, can you propagate your own convictions and use a common journalistic yardstick?

‘Talk show there’

Unheard Netherlands sees its biweekly afternoon program Unheard of News as a news, current affairs and interpretation program that is highly opinionated on the right side of the political field. Karskens wants “a talk show in the new TV season”, he said on Tuesday in the last broadcast before the summer break. That can double what he already makes, since Unheard of News is more based on opinion. According to the definition in the new genre policy plan, a current affairs program is “primarily aimed at objective reporting and truth-finding”, that is difficult to say about Ongehoord Nieuws.

There may be another condition in the genre policy plan that Karskens has difficulty with. In addition to compliance with the journalistic code, it now appears that ‘following up an investigation by the ombudsman and affiliation with the Press Council’ is also a requirement. Ongehoord Nederland recently dismissed the ombudsman’s negative conclusions. Unheard of News according to ombudsman Margo Smit violates the journalistic code of the public broadcaster by broadcasting insufficient critical interviews. The NPO board wants to reduce ON’s budget, a decision will be made next week.

Affiliation with the Council for Journalism is also an issue for BNNVARA. The broadcaster left the Council after a negative assessment of the Zembla broadcasts about the granulite affair. According to content director Suzanne Kunzeler, her broadcaster is holding “constructive talks” about a return “and the changes in the way of working of the Council for Journalism that are necessary for this”.