Freedom of the Press
The Dutch media landscape is open, accessible, and diverse. State and nonstate actors respect protections for the press, and media professionals and houses are able to operate without undue interference. However, recent legislative measures and proposals related to national security and antiterrorism have raised concerns about undue surveillance of journalists and their sources.
- In February 2015, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) approved the acquisition of the publishing company Mecom by De Persgroep.
- Lawmakers proposed amendments to the Intelligence and Security Act of 2002 in July; the changes include some safeguards for journalists’ ability to protect sources, but would not restrict the act’s enabling of mass surveillance of media professionals and their sources.
- In December, the House of Representatives began discussing a new bill, part of the government’s antiterrorism initiatives, that would significantly expand the surveillance capabilities and powers of security services.
Legal Environment: 2 / 30
Article 7 of the constitution safeguards freedom of expression. Although some provisions ban hate speech and discrimination, freedom of speech usually carries more weight in media-related judicial decisions. While a blasphemy law was repealed in 2013, defamation and insult remain criminal offenses. However, criminal convictions for defamation and insult are uncommon, and satire concerning members of the royal family is usually permitted.
In 2014, legislators introduced a draft measure concerning journalistic sources, following several European Court of Human Rights decisions that found the Netherlands to be in violation of journalists’ rights to protect their sources. At the end of 2015, discussion of the proposed changes continued. Additionally, in July, lawmakers proposed amendments to the Intelligence and Security Act of 2002; the changes include some safeguards on source protection, but would not affect more controversial aspects of the act, particularly the enabling of mass surveillance of journalists and their sources. The amendments had not been fully adopted at year’s end. However, in December, the interior ministry reported that a temporary measure regulating the 2002 act, set to go into effect in January 2016, would protect communications between journalists and their sources as well as between lawyers and their clients.
Also in December, the House of Representatives began discussing a new bill, part of the government’s antiterrorism initiatives, that would significantly expand the surveillance capabilities and powers of security services. The digital rights foundation Bits of Freedom awarded the official who proposed the bill, Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk, with its satirical Big Brother Award for violation of privacy. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and international privacy watchdogs have been among the many critics of Dutch security legislation in recent years.
Article 110 of the constitution stipulates that the government must observe the principle of transparency and requires government agencies to publish information. Under the 1991 Government Information (Public Access) Act, any person may request information pertaining to an administrative matter. If the information is located in documents belonging to a public body or a private company conducting work for a public entity, the authorities must respond within two weeks.
An independent body established by the government, the Dutch Media Authority, assesses developments in the media landscape on a yearly basis, focusing on independence, pluralism, and accessibility. The body has the authority to impose fines, revoke media licenses, and limit broadcast time.
Political Environment: 5 / 40
The government rarely interferes with media content, and does not restrict internet access or censor online content; however, it does monitor the internet for illegal material, such as child pornography. In 2012, Stichting BREIN, a Dutch antipiracy organization, won a court case against the file-sharing platform Pirate Bay, leading to an order for internet service providers (ISPs) to block the website. The Court of Appeal overturned this verdict in 2014. However, in November 2015, the Supreme Court found the 2014 ruling to be incorrect, and referred the case to the European Court of Justice, asking it to consider whether Pirate Bay violates European Union (EU) copyright laws and to clarify the power of the judiciary to order ISPs to block access to illegal content.
In 2014, the government presented an integrated plan for combatting terrorism to the legislature. The plan includes monitoring the online distribution of extremist material that “encourages violence, radicalization, or hatred,” and sanctions criminal prosecution if an individual does not voluntarily remove the offending material. The controversial bill introduced in December 2015 was part of this antiterrorism plan.
Journalists practice a degree of self-censorship, particularly on sensitive issues such as immigration and religion. Accounts of self-censorship were particularly pronounced following the 2004 murder of the controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist and the January 2015 attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. However, journalists nevertheless continue to cover a wide variety of controversial topics. Physical attacks and intimidation directed against media professionals remained rare in 2015.
Economic Environment: 4 / 30
Newspaper ownership is highly concentrated, with three companies owning the majority of paid newspapers. In February 2015, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) approved the acquisition of Mecom, which owns publishing houses in Denmark and the Netherlands, by the Belgian publisher De Persgroep. Although the ACM claimed that readers’ and advertisers’ range of choice would be unaffected, the Dutch Media Authority expressed concerns that increasing ownership concentration would place the independence of the print sector at risk.
Budget cuts have led to the consolidation of public-service broadcasting in recent years, with several television channels merging or closing. Nederlandse Publieke Omroep (NPO) administers and governs the country’s public broadcasting stations, and several national public-service television and radio outlets operate alongside private competitors as well as regional stations. Approximately 93 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2015.
The country’s modest economic recovery is expected to increase companies’ advertising expenditures, and potentially improve the financial sustainability of media outlets.