Dutch journalists at work

Monopoly of journalism is a disastrous feat for pluralism

The survival of independent journalism requires public investment, writes Leon Willems. The Dutch TV broadcasters Talpa and RTL recently announced a merger. With all the ifs and buts about the intentions of the main commercial media companies in our country, one element has invariably been omitted: what does this mean in the long term for independent journalism and the multiformity of the journalistic media landscape?

The reasoning behind the new television merger is that Dutch products require protection in the media against the international threat of streaming media platforms. The question is whether this is a valid argument. How will this merger help to counter the moment that Google or Disney simply place an unavoidably high sum of money on the table to take full control? And why shouldn't international platforms be able to make a Dutch product? In fact, this is already happening, as witnessed by the birth of the first popular Netflix crime series. The offer is meager, which is one of the reasons that the Council for Culture has made recommendations in its report in 2018 to tie market access for global players to production quotas for Dutch products. Unfortunately, the government has done too little to combat this, given that the Economic Affairs department in particular is ideologically opposed to market regulation.

Talpa recently sold its shares in the ANP. It saw no future within its media chain in the main Dutch news agency. While John de Mol considered tying a journalistic branch to Talpa indispensable a few years ago, this is apparently no longer necessary. Perhaps a bad sign. From the perspective of independent journalism, the merger is certainly no guarantee to prevent a further erosion of diversity in current journalistic trends.

The public broadcaster says it sees high quality journalism as a trademark, and yet the channel managers focus on market shares and not on diverse news offerings. Much of the same, bystander journalism and opinion programs are seemingly at the expense of in-depth work and research. RTL and Talpa place scant attention on local and in-depth journalism, which is a shame because it is certainly not the journalists' fault. Few countries have so many innovative platforms and start-ups, such as Follow The Money, a platform that enforces responsibility and transparency from those in power.

With the additional power of social media, hate spreading and polarization, a problematic scenario arises for the information landscape for generations to come. Young people already have less faith in journalism than older people. That is why the Forum on Information and Democracy – an international coalition of press freedom organizations and research institutes – advocates a New Deal for Journalism for investment in its latest report. The report calls on, among others, the OECD and countries that care about press freedom to set a fixed development budget for journalism. Tax measures targeting social media platforms are needed, including facilities to allow for more philanthropic investments for quality journalism. Chris Oomen saw what many in the media world refuse to recognize: that a monopoly in the supply of journalistic content is imminent. He recently bought the shares of ANP, a very welcome move that more investors should take. Who follows?


Leon Willems 
Free Press Unlimited

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