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Dutch TV News sucks big time

How Dutch public broadcasters loose sight of their raison d'Ítre

by Peter van de Ven and Lennert Ploeger.



Introduction

In The Netherlands we have had commercial television only for the last decennia. Before that there was only the publicly funded TV and radio stations. But our system of public television (and radio) is very different from the nations around us. Instead of one "Broadcasting Cooperation" like in Great Brittain, we have a broadcasting system which more or less reflects the status of Dutch society as it was fifty years ago. There are tens of medium and small sized broadcasting associations (socialist, roman catholic, etc.) called Omroepen whose air time (and public funding) is determined by the number of members each association has. Because you need a certain number of members, it is very difficult to start a new broadcasting association and thus the old associations cling on to their positions.

Besides these "member" Omroepen there are some special Omroepen who don't need members, one of which is the NOS. The NOS (Dutch Broadcasting Foundation) is responsible for making the TV news.

The worst of both worlds

Although some consider the Dutch broadcasting system as the best in the world, in general those who don't want to loose their propaganda channels, I consider it the worst we could even imagine to create.
Because the Omroepen have to compete with commercial channels they decided they couldn't do without commercials and let all that beautiful money go to waste. So even though we are paying for these Omroepen through our taxes, we are watching commercials for 15% of the time.

But the worst thing about these Omroepen is that they are not only competing with the commercial and the foreign stations, they are also competing amongst themselves. Which basically means broadcasting the same thing at the same time. And instead of sharing their human resources, they each have their own foreign affairs team, their own political news team, their own science editor, their own ... etc. etc. etc. Instead of a specialist on each subject, each of them has someone who doesn't know what he is talking about because they can't afford the real thing. Wasn't that, eh, united we stand, divided we fall. Well, the Dutch broadcasters have chosen for the latter.

And that is why we have got publicly funded television, which looks exactly like commercial television and brings us bad programs. With the possible exception of one or two smaller Omroepen who have decided not to be led by the number of viewers but bring quality television.

We believe that publicly funded broadcasting is all about doing the programs that commercial stations don't do. Which leaves the Omroepen with a lot of things to do, educate the people, inform the people, bring quality entertainment, arts and politics, and doing all this without resorting to commercials. And the shining example, the 'reason for being' of the Omroepen, the one program that combines all these thing is the independent TV news. But unfortunately in The Netherlands this isn't the case.

Shining by example?

The NOS Journaal (Dutch TV News) is the prime example of how to make terrible tv programs. They seem to be only interested in filling their slot. They are not interested in educating the people, informing them so they can better judge the situation themselves. Instead they just pass on the information they get from an unreliable source, or make up a story alongside some video they received from a foreign country but aren't really sure about what is happening in it. They don't have any specialists to make sense of the information they receive, and thus are turned into nothing more than parrots, they hear but they don't understand, they speak but they don't say nothing worthwhile.

Recommendations

We would like to give some examples of the state our TV news is in alongside with some recommendations to improve the news.

  • Replace the anchorman by a virtual one, who is capable of doing his job without stuttering and frowning. Ok, maybe a virtual one is asking a bit to much, but can we at least have one that can speak one sentence without making a mistake and without making faces to expres his own opinion concerning the item he is just reading.
  • Let the correspondent abroad do some research on the subject matter and present his findings, instead of just repeating what he saw on CNN in his hotel room, in front of the camera. Our correspondents and so called specialists are just famous for their items, totally unhindered by any knowledge of the subject. Sequences like this are not unusual: "Well informed sources (their cab drivers red.) have informed us that there is a possibility that the government of Farawaystan may take steps. However because taking these steps can make the situation even more precarious they will consider very carefully if it isn't possible to stabilize the situation without taking these steps. In which case they may decide to leave everything as it is". This is known in The Netherlands as "het kan vriezen, het kan dooien" (literally "maybe it will freeze, maybe it will thaw") item.
  • Broadcast a funny Cow & Chicken cartoon instead of making up non-items on days that nothing really occurred. We would rather see a sign that says "No news today", than watch non-items for twenty minutes.
  • Bring foreign news about foreigners, not about Dutch people at the scene of action. During the earthquake in Turkye where tens of thousands of people died, we got endless items about how well the Dutch Search and Rescue dog teams were doing. And the only thing they did, was arrive there. Before they were put into action they were sent home because there was nothing left to do for them.
  • Bring something new in every successive NOS Journaal. A mere rewind of the auto cue is so stupid! You have to see it to believe it, once the text for an item has been written something really significant has to happen before they are going to change it. So every successive NOS Journaal is, apart from really new items, exactly the same as the one before, and thus utterly, utterly boring.
    A good news editor would bring the main points of the item again and again, but bring new and different aspects into play with each successive broadcast. And don't tell me it can't be done, because I watch the BBC in England do it every day. (Maybe I should tell you that mentioning the BBC news to representatives of the NOS Journaal, p.e. the Assistent Chief Editor Hans Laroes, really ticks them off. Because every complaint they get mentions how well the BBC does things)
  • Do not transmit archive footage that is only faintly related to the news item. Oh, you just gonna love this one. When the NOS Journaal has an item about drugs trafficking by ship, they will show you some archive footage of a totally unrelated ship entering or leaving the harbor. An item about environmental pollution at our national airport and they will bore you to death with some old videos of planes taking off or landing. The army is going to buy some attack helicopters, and they just throw in some footage of some totally different helicopters. As long as it flies and doesn't have any wings it's good enough for those morons at home that pay our salary, they seem to think.
  • Do not reduce the number of news broadcast during the summer months. Because a lot of people are on holiday during the summer months the number of NOS Journaal news broadcasts is reduced significantly. This is incredibly irritating, this is like the electricity or water company shutting down every other hour because this day the number of customers falls beneath a certain level. News is the information equivalent of electricity and water and its supply should be treated with the same importance. How would you like it if you got your news paper every other day during the summer months? Yep, ridiculous!
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