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Wouter Hins: Intimidating journalists undermines democracy based on the rule of law

Angry politicians, angry journalists: the initiative of Forum for Democracy politician Gideon van Meijeren during which he secretly filmed a reporter portraying them as a ‘sewer rat’, caused a lot of anger. Where does all this commotion come from? Wouter Hins: ‘Calling a journalist a "sewer rat" is really pushing it.’

‘There are two reasons for the commotion,’ says Wouter Hins, Professor emeritus Interdisciplinary Study of the Law, on Dutch news television programme RTL Nieuws. ‘The first is that journalists, as do scholars and judges, have the task to keep their back straight, regardless of the prevailing public opinion,’ says Hins. One of the most important tasks in journalism is to keep tabs on those in power, such as politicians. When a journalist is being intimidated to the point that he can no longer do his job, ‘democracy under the rule of law is undermined’.

The second reason according to Hins, is that the comparison with ‘rats and sewers’ evokes strong negative associations. ‘The terminology can result in people who are being referred to in such a way, no longer being seen as human, but as something inferior, as vermin.’

Dutch newspaper Trouw also interviewed Hins about the recent commotion caused by Dutch broadcasting corporation ON. The NPO, the foundation overseeing all Dutch public broadcasting corporations, has imposed a second sanction this week. According to the umbrella organisation, ON continuously fails to adhere to the journalistic code and collaboration remains difficult. After a second sanction, the NPO can request to have the broadcaster removed from the public broadcasting system in accordance with the Dutch Media Act.

Officially, they do not really need the second sanction, says Hins. ‘Such a request can also be made if the NPO believes that a broadcaster is failing in their efforts to collaborate sufficiently.’

More information

You can read the full article by RTL Nieuws (in Dutch) here.

You can read the full article by Trouw (in Dutch) here.

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