More Dutch journalist are receiving serious threats of violence

A new statement from the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV), which protects the Netherlands from threats that could disrupt society, shows that journalists increasingly are targets for serious intimidations and aggression. In 2020, Dutch police received at least 105 official threat reports by journalists.

Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the NCTV, confirms that journalists are a target. “There are serious threats and aggressive statements against journalists. You also see it internationally where journalists are on the front line.” Aalbersberg encourages professionals to report threats in order to set a standard. “A democratic society needs to trust the government, to trust politicians, but also to trust journalism. Many people think threats come with the job, but that’s not the case. Threats should not be part of a journalist’s job.”

Het Parool newspaper reports information shared by the Dutch Minister for Primary and Secondary Education and Media, Arie Slob. The numbers were lower compared to 2019, but from April of 2020 a total of 52 reports were made. However, according to Slob’s ChristenUnie, the Christian conservative party in the Netherlands, it’s not possible to draw a one-to-one comparison. Some threats against journalists originated from radical farmers opposing the government’s environmental policy, and activists of Viruswaanzin (Virus madness), which resists the national corona strategy. These issues obviously did not exist last year, so it’s hard to compare over the years, as the people who make threats, and the reasons for doing so, change over time. Other threats are made by members of criminal organizations, against journalists reporting on their crimes.

Last year a special reporting center was set up to collect such data. PersVeilig is a partnership between the Dutch Association of Journalists, the Association of Editors-in-Chief, the police and the Public Prosecution Service to secure the position of journalists dealing with threats or aggression. As a result, awareness may have increased, resulting in more reports, said Slob. “Never accept it – report it,” the minister emphasized during an interview. He believes that more attention should be given to freelancers who don’t have an employer to support them. In 2017, a major survey among 600 Dutch journalists was conducted and the numbers were alarming: 61% said they had been intimidated at work, while 43% reported experiencing threats every year. Slob announced a new nationwide survey to gather new data.

Paul Vugts, a journalist with Het Parool, lived in a safehouse for more than six months after it become clear that criminals had issued a murder order against him. However, even when a report is made, it’s not always possible to act in the way the ministry of Justice and Security would like. Journalist Chris Klomp was told by the police that he ‘should move house’ after receiving threats.

NOS logo removed from cars
The logo of the NOS, the main Dutch broadcasting company, will be removed from the satellites and cars from the TV and radio organization, as reporters often receive threats from bystanders while at work. “People giving us the finger, swearing and even people hitting their brakes right in front of our cars on highways. At first, the intimidations were dismissed as incidents, but it’s now happening all the time. A limit has been reached,” explains editor-in-chief Marcel Gelauff. Removing the logo is painful for all employees. “This feels like giving in to terror and violence,” says reporter Kysia Hekster. Gelauff also feels very upset about it. “We want to be visible, but that’s no longer possible from a security point of view.”

Hekster hopes that the stickers can be put back on the cars one day, but fears the worst: “We’re threatened, spat on and called liars. A colleague was told by someone that they knew where his children go to school. We’ve had to be accompanied by security guards for a few years already and now the stickers of the cars are being taken off. What’s the next step? The covers of the microphones? I hope it doesn’t get that far.”

Concerns have been raised in the House of Representatives about threats against journalists. However, FvD leader Thierry Baudet rejects the accusations made by Gelauff, that politicians like Baudet call for suspicion of the media. “If he suggests that there is a connection between the threats to journalists and my previous comments about mistrusting the press, I find that terrible, absurd and abject,” says Baudet.

Written by Raphael Perachi Vieira