10 February 2012

Hilversum, the Netherlands



On Friday 10 February 2012, the NTR, Dutch educational broadcaster, and NPO, Dutch Public Broadcasting, organized together with Mira Media, a national diversity event. The workshop was hosted by NTR in the framework of the annual Diversity Show. This annual event is meant to bring extra attention to diversity in public broadcasting, with a program of debates, master classes and presentations. The Diversity Show ‘Update’ was meant to give insight in the state of affairs in 2012 concerning diversity in the media and Public Broadcasting in particular. The future was also discussed, by means of the use of ‘social media’ that give a new dynamics to the concept of ‘diversity’. Newsgathering or news production is no longer exclusively the domain of the professional journalist. The Internet, as long as governments allow this, provides a platform to everyone and the ‘Arab Spring’ has clearly shown what this can lead to.

The workshop was opened by Simone Weimans, journalist and anchor at NOS Journaal, and Frans Jennekens (Project leader Diversity at NTR).

“Diversity is and remains one of the pillars of Public Broadcasting!” said host Frans Jennekens with determination and conviction in his opening speech. The participants were a mixed group, from program makers, policy makers, journalists from PSB to representatives of the public sector and several NGOs.

To kick off the meeting, a retrospective of 15 years Prix Europa IRIS was presented with film/video material showing a compilation of the productions of European film and documentary makers that received this prestigious prize. In all productions ‘diversity’ and multicultural society are a natural given which touches the heart and can be painful at the same time. A smile and a tear. ‘Clandestine’ by Arnaud Bedouet was an example of the last in his drama film about Salif, a boy from Mauretania who tries to survive in Paris. ‘The New Country’ by the Swedish author Peter Birro is a beautiful example of a road movie where also humor plays a prominent role. In the film, 15-year old Ali from Somalia meets 14-year old Massoud, a political refugee from Iran. They decide to take their own fate and leave the asylum seekers center to make a journey through Sweden. ‘Nothing is what it seems’ and in this way the viewer receives a both happy and biting portrait of a purely white society.  The most recent 2011 Prix Iris was won by documentary maker Gűlsah Dogan who works for Dutch PSB, with a production entitled ‘Liefdeswinter’ (Winter of Love). Participants were invited to toast on the anniversary of the Prix Iris and the successful documentary. The documentary was displayed at the conclusion of the workshop.




After this introduction, there was a parallel programme, consisting of a Workshop and Master class. 

The Workshop was a session for PSB-related invitees only, led by Simone Weimans, where participants discussed the Stimulation Fund for Diversity of Dutch PSB: the different projects funded by the Program, and their results were presented: * Exchange of ways to tackle diversity issues and concrete results * Evaluation of the results of the program. Discussed project were the News Academy (an initiative of News hour and NOS Journaal) and the history project “Grenzeloos Verleden” (Borderless Past).

In parallel a Master class took place led by Francisco van Jole, editor in chief of the website Joop, of PSB organization VARA. First, he introduced the workshop by speaking about the meaning of communication technologies and social media for a more diverse news production about political and social developments. Is this actually the case? Have ‘Facebook’s’ led to more diversity in news making? Did they trigger signaling and development of the ‘Arab Spring’? Or are they merely handy ‘tools’ to find stories in a fast and ‘inexpensive’ way (citizen journalism, “news partners”)?

A question among the public leads to an interesting division among different ‘social media’. Van Jole’s question as to who is on Facebook leads to the over hundred participants to each raise their hands. That becomes far less when he asks who is on Twitter.  On other social networks hardly anyone is active anymore. It further turns out Facebook is used as a private medium. It is generally not a medium for work or to look for or find news. Also the use of Twitter is remarkable: the number of people in the room who twitter is almost nil: they do not tweet themselves but only follow tweets. Does this mean the role of ‘social media’ as a source for professionals is negligible? Do ‘social media’ have any role at all in the world of diversity?

Several interviews about the meaning of social media or the daily work of journalists and research journalists tried to answer this. Which new professional skills are expected from them in the future and which specific expertise and knowledge is needed? A journalist of NOS Youth News spoke about the way in which they use social and interactive media to communicate with their target audiences.

Check, check and double check

Second, Robert Baltus, coordinator at Dutch PSB NOS net told about the use of social media on their news website. How are social media used to look for news stories and topics? How is information checked? How can organisations and bloggers best bring their news and information to the attention of newsrooms via social media?

“Our type of people” - this is how Robert Baltus describes the typical ‘twitter’ person who sends out tweets into the world on a daily basis. But in the Netherlands that are always the same people with the same opinions that are of no use to him. “If I really need to have something from them I can also phone them or they phone me if something is really important”.

However this does not mean Baltus sees ‘social media’ as a marginal source. To the contrary, his role in the master class is to show their impact, in particular in an international perspective. Their use requires new skills from the desk researcher and journalist today. Just ‘googling’ a name is far from sufficient. Search engines that filter ‘tweets’ on key word abound. But who is behind the ‘tweet’? How reliable is the source? Does speed not go at the expense of accuracy? 

“Check, check and double check!” Robert Baltus cannot emphasize this enough. “What used to hold true for old media certainly does for new media!” He is convinced “the role of journalist is changing”. “With ‘social media’ you each have the same source, whether you are a professional or not. It is up to us to filter, check and provide meaning.” He also stresses that you should be open to your audience. They will appreciate this. “Simply say that you do all you can to find the truth”, Baltus said.

Questions from the room as to where are the limits of what is technically allowed when for example the quality of images uploaded via social media is concerned, Baltus thinks there is no difference there either between old and new media. “Whether the image is moving or the audio is bad… News is News!” 

A question by MEDIVA researcher, Jessika ter Wal, whether, opposed to the international news where most examples focused on, national news about migrants had or had not become more diverse thanks to access to social media sources, or whether the outlet actually sought for migrant sources via social media, was answered negatively. This is to show that awareness and use of social media, though being an important issue in today’s media world and newsgathering, is not necessarily coupled to awareness about the need to diversify news content and give a voice to those who are often not heard even when the news directly affects them. Unfortunately, Jessika thinks, it appears at least from the examples discussed in the Master class that up to now diversity via social media is mostly sought to access sources about conflict areas in other parts of the world, because there are no alternatives. Of course, this also affects news about and perceptions of migration and refugees, but in a more international context.

International news

As an example of the above, Rosh Abdelfatah was interviewed about the question how professionals can make their expertise visible on the right moment and how social media can effectively monitor news around the world. Rosh showed material from his work in refugee camps in Turkey across the Syrian border and in Rotterdam among Syrian refugees. Film maker and political refugee from Syria, Rosh Abdelfatah came to the Netherlands twelve years ago. He is the initiator of the project ‘Het Jasmijnplein’ (Jasmine Square), an action center in Rotterdam where Syrians meets and keep contact with their fellow countrymen in Syria, with support of the Red Cross to support the refugees. Rosh showed footage of the center when visited by Dutch government representatives and footage he himself made while in Turkey. He is an intensive user of ‘social media’ but rightfully points at an essential difference between the use ‘here’ and ‘there’. In the free Western world the use of social media does not have any consequences. This obviously does not count for the actions of regimes in the countries where the ‘Arab Spring’ could start.

Finally, Lyangelo Vasquez research journalist and blogger at NTR was interviewed about his participation in news making about the revolution in Egypt. He had an enthusiastic account about his experience with ‘social media’ as ‘news tool’. His job is his hobby. He both consumes and produces ‘web content’. He does not only follow tweets, but also contacts people who produce a site, blog or news platform. Although this was inspiring to him, he missed the face-to-face contact when things got exciting. Who are the people behind the screen and keyboard? When the call for freedom in Egypt became concrete, Lyangelo took a plane to Cairo to meet the real faces behind the blogs and be part of the moment in which world history was written. To the question what was nicer, the blogging or to be there, Vasquez’ answer was clear: “To be there of course”, but he stressed: “the people I could meet I would have never found without ‘social media’.”

Breaking routines

In parallel to the Masterclass ‘Social Media’ a session for invitees only was organized by Dutch Public Broadcasting in the framework of the ‘Stiumulation Fund Diversity’. On two locations in the NTR building, editors in chief and programme makers discussed openly about the opportunities and challenges faced when dealing with ‘diversity’. ‘News academy’, an initiative of News Hour and NOS Journaal, is an example of opportunities. People in the 20s who next to their job or study have ambitions in journalism are coached and trained in producing and presenting news items.

Silvia Pilger of ‘News academy’ was positive about the passion of participants who are a reflection of Dutch society today. “Precisely their lack of professional training or experience in journalism makes that they have a very open way to look at stories” she is convinced. Also their different cultural background led to remarkable perspectives. The enthusiasm of the ‘non-Dutch’ producers is the most striking. “They give it their full hundred percent. Also in order to prove that journalism, and certainly free and independent journalism, is a condition for democracy.” In many countries of origin the profession of journalist has a low status or is simply too dangerous. 

Challenges do exist too of course. “With journalists old habits die hard” or “It still us a white 40-year olds bastion” – the participants to the two workshops did not hold back when discussing daily newsgathering routines. Unfortunately ‘diversity’ with journalists is limited in many cases to a phone call to the migrant intern to ask if he or she by chance “knows any Moroccan”. Time pressure and pressure to perform and ‘score’ with a news item, the lack of manpower, were also mentioned as causes for a lack of optimal ‘diversity’. 

At the radio there is still another problem. Many men and women of the first generation migrants do not speak Dutch. This means they can never give their opinion about news items that are important to them, such as ageing population and care for the elderly. These topics are not forgotten, but they are voiced by younger experts from the same target group. This led to a laugh in the audience because they naturally speak Dutch so well that on radio it is obviously not possible to hear what were their ‘roots’.

Within the NPO Stimulation Fund the human-interest program ‘Borderless Past’ - ‘Grenzeloos Verleden’ (NTR/VPRO) is an interesting example. The history of the Moroccan community in the Netherlands is described on the website with personal stories of different generations: http://www.geschiedenis24.nl/grenzeloosverleden, in the form of literature, archive material, photo’s and film, and interviews. Visitors can also upload their own story or images, which seeing the contributions is an option that is used a lot. A remarkable way of historical writing and a valuable source for the future. 

Diversity: just do it!

The final conclusion of all participants to both the NPO-workshops ‘Representation’ and the Master class ‘Social Media’ is that diversity is simply a matter of doing. This is almost inevitable, because if journalism is still a bastion of white middle-aged men, then within ten years this problem will be solved by itself with the rapidly changing composition of the Dutch population. 

In addition it is evident that journalism makes no difference between ‘migrant’ and ‘non-migrant’ reporting. News is news, a fact is a fact, and check still means double check. Even the unstoppable rise of ‘social media’ does not change these basic conditions. The benefit of diversity is, and will remain, the added value of mutual knowledge and experience that can give an extra perspective and color to a story or news item. (from report by Ruud van Gessel for NTR website, translated by Jessika ter Wal)

For images see:

NTR - Video

NTR - Fotoboek


[1] This text is based on the English translation of the official event report in Dutch by Ruud van Gessel for NTR published on http://programma.ntr.nl/10526/the-diversity-show/page/1080/verslag. All visual material is also property of Ruud van Gessel/NTR. Apart from introductory elements, one personal addition by MEDIVA researcher Jessika ter Wal has been introduced as such in the text.