Published On: Thu, Apr 14th, 2022

Boycott the press briefing

By Hilbert Haar

If something gets me really going, it is a government that imposes all kinds of silly rules on journalists. DCOMM certainly got me going with the publication of its media policy. Don’t get me wrong, the government is fully within its rights to set rules for attending the weekly press briefings of the Council of Ministers. But they’re overdoing it.

Related article: DCOMM media policy triggers widespread criticism

When you want to get access to the Second Chamber (Tweede Kamer) in The Hague there are also rules. But they are simple: from the age of 14, visitors have to present a valid ID, smoking, taking pictures, drinking alcohol and using drugs are prohibited and you have to leave your bag and your coat in the wardrobe. Nobody ever thought of a rule that orders citizens to arrive in business attire (whatever that may be).

The Second Chamber has an elaborate policy for accrediting journalists, and DCOMM seems to have picked up a few hints from it, in the sense that both policies deny accreditation to those who work for a political faction or a political party.

But who is a journalist? It is a free profession that does not require “specialized training” as DCOMM apparently wants. Anybody can hit a keyboard and write something. The Second Chamber simply defines a journalist as somebody for whom journalism is the main occupation. Their journalistic activities have to be established with a letter from their employer or their principal.

There is a big difference between the Second Chamber’s accreditation policy and that of DCOMM. Business attire is not a requirement for Dutch journalist and the Second Chamber stays far from observations about “qualitative journalistic reporting.”

This is where DCOMM is completely wrong. It is not up to the government, or to one of its departments, to decide what kind of journalism meets its standards of quality. Even better: the constitution grants all citizens (including journalists) in article 10 the right to “publish thoughts or feelings without prior permission.”

This freedom is obviously not absolute: one cannot break the law by insulting someone (for instance by calling a minister an asshole), by inciting hatred or violence or by publishing outright lies that damage someone’s reputation. You don’t need a media policy for that; the civil code has already taken care of these matters.

My impression is that DCOMM’s media policy is designed to deny access to the press briefing to writers who do not live up to the stuck up principles of the government. A few names come to mind in this context (like Andrew Dick and Bibi Shaw) but I wonder very much whether these people are worth all the trouble. There are, after all, no laws against bad taste.

Really irritating is the requirement to address ministers with the prefix ‘honorable.’ This is a moniker politicians have awarded themselves when St. Maarten became an autonomous country in the kingdom in 2010. But in my opinion, honorable is an adjective you have to earn. If you give it to yourself, it becomes laughable, plain stupid and pompous.

And then the deployment of the Executive Protection Unit, or EPU is St. Maarten’s extensive alphabet soup. These guys take a nice bite out of the national budget (664,870 guilders or $371,435 in 2021) but I have never noticed what they are actually doing for all that money. Maybe that’s the purpose or maybe they just needed the job of checking the bags of journalists for firearms and explosives to justify their existence.

My last pet peeve is with the requirement to appear at press briefings in business attire. Sure, I understand that you don’t go to these events in your swimming trunks. But business attire? What exactly is that? The policy does not offer any clues. So a journalist who moonlights at a diving center could show up as a surfer dude, claiming that this is his regular business attire.

What’s wrong with a Dickhouse tee shirt from Gangstaparadise? It shows a nice rainbow and this should not offend anyone.

My, oh my. I always thought that there are at least some people working in our government with a decent functioning set of brains. This media policy shows that I was wrong.

I now wonder how my colleagues are going to react to these suffocating rules. The best idea I read is this one: make the government pay for all the press releases they send to the media that they expect to be published for free. Boycott the press briefing and follow the circus online. Investigate and expose what the government is doing instead of asking polite question to which you almost always get bland answers. That’ll teach them.


Related article:
DCOMM media policy triggers widespread criticism
Govt’s current Media Policy sets dangerous dictator-like precedent of press censorship, says PFP