Cookie Consent by Free Privacy Policy Generator

The Netherlands – (F4) Internal rules for practice of newsroom democracy

Score in short:

Nearly all news media have internal rules or by-laws outlining a procedure for appointing an editor-in-chief. The management will not easily disregard the viewpoint of the editorial board.

Score in detail:

Nearly all the news media under study have internal rules or by-laws outlining a procedure for appointing an editor-in-chief. The editorial board has some influence in the matter, as it has a say in the appointment of members of the commission that scrutinizes applications, a commission on which the board is actually represented. In addition, the board has the right to veto or accept a candidate put forward by the management, a provision of some consequence as a chief editor without support of the rank-and-file cannot function adequately. In practice, therefore, the management will not easily disregard the viewpoint of the editorial board.

In this context, it is worth citing the procedure adopted by NRC Handelsblad/, not only because it is exceptional but also because it could be observed in practice in 2010, after the editor-in-chief resigned quite unexpectedly. The quest for a successor is initiated by the editorial board and not by the commission for applications. The board suggests a candidate to the manager-publisher, who in turn introduces the candidate to the chairman of the board of directors of the investment company controlling NRC Media. The manager-publisher’s role is a marginal one, though he or she is given extensive information during the course of the process. If the candidate nominated by the board does not meet with the manager-publisher’s approval, the editorial board nominates a second candidate. A candidate is only nominated if at least two thirds of the editorial board agree. This procedure is in sharp contrast with the other end of the spectrum, where we find the editorial staff of, who are not numerous enough to have a board, let alone editorial rules, and who have no formal or informal say in appointments at all.

Actually, these editorial by-laws, so typical of Dutch news media, do not go undisputed among foreign publishers and owners. The Belgian publishing group De Persgroep, for example, accepts no interference in the appointment of an editor-inchief for its Belgian media. As Piet Bakker (chief lecturer of communication science at the university of Amsterdam) says, De Persgroep (owner of, among others, De Volkskrant) considers the editorial by-laws an impediment to the sound management of a publishing company. In their opinion, strict adherence to these rules is one of the factors that led to the decline of PCM, the former owner of De Volkskrant. They contend that an elected candidate should not hold the post of editor-in-chief, but quite simply the most suitable candidate, an outstanding and talented journalist, himself or herself active among the other journalists, who can motivate and inspire the staff and who understands the readers and their preferences.

The degree of the editorial staff’s participation in deciding on the content of the newspaper is defined by the hierarchy within the organization. As far as decisions regarding content go, it is the chiefs who are formally responsible: the chief of the news desk makes a preselection from among the available news items and the final editor decides what goes into the newspaper, the website or the news bulletin and what does not. If these two people cannot reach a decision, it is the editor-in-chief who has the final say. In radio and television, the various desk editors and final editors will check, for each program, the choices they have made with the editor-in-chief, who – and this goes for all news media examined – is responsible for the policy adopted (in the widest sense). In a number of cases, the editorial by-laws explicitly settle the influence of the editorial board on the course steered by a particular news medium. In the 1960s, these rules or by-laws were won after a hard fight by journalists versus owners, but today their significance is slowly being eroded, at least according to Huub evers, lecturer at the Fontys College for Journalism in Tilburg. The reasons, he says, are many: the new owners do not take the slightest notice of editorial by-laws, editors-in-chief now bear a great commercial responsibility, and the workload of journalists has increased so that they have less time for the editorial board or for a journalists’ union.