Dutch not so worried about fake news. Most people trust the press and media. Should they?

Not sure what to make of this: only 3 in 10 Dutch people question the integrity of the press in the Netherlands with only 11% saying they have no trust in the media - the lowest of any of the 37 countries surveyed. No one thinks it's a good thing to disrespect national news carriers, but what's happened to healthy Dutch scepticism? And worse, these already low figures are falling as support for right wing populism in the country is growing. Today's other story on the States of Mind site cites criticism of German television by the respected German culture council who accuse TV editors of promoting the cause of the far-right through talk shows endlessly discussing subjects at the top of the right-wing AfD party's agenda. It would seem extraordinary if nothing like this happened also in The Netherlands.

Well, fake news - lies, distortion of facts, false statistics, deliberately misleading accounts and so on - is one thing. But, just like everywhere else, popular elements of the Dutch press can misrepresent and distort reality by creating imbalance through obsessive targeting, selective accounts, sensationalism and outright bitching. This is something that's very much alive and well in important parts of the Netherlands press and media (although, it has to be said, nowhere near as bad as some of the reptiles in, for example, the UK or the US).

Let's assume there really is no deliberate fake news... but there doesn't have to be for press reports to be partial, biased, insulting, polarising and dangerous. The real question is, are the editors of the more populist leaning elements of the Dutch press and media deliberately trying to be unbalanced? Of course. Do they quote time-tried-and-tested pet commentators and predictable favourites rather than people who would challenge with a more complete picture or disagree with them? Of course. Do they employ misogynist, racist, hysterical fuck-wit columists who bully, launch cowardly personal attacks and abuse from a position of deep ignorance? Every day - and I can name more than a few. Do they try to sensationalise or convince that some issues are more grave or whimsical than they really are? Absolutely. This is what the popular press is about - everywhere. Selling newspapers through making everyday events seem unusual, frightening, threatening or scandalous. The problem for democratic values is that institutional unfairness in reporting and investigating is just as pernicious as fake news.

The worst element is the right-wing populist website/Blog "Geen Stijl" written by weak, privileged,  hysterical, racist and sexist bullies. "Geen Stijl" means "No Style" and is well-named. Amongst other things, it targets citizens and newspapers and intimidates journalists who write fair-minded articles they disagree with. Its agenda is basically nativist, white nationalist - and of course strongly Islamophobic and anti-immigrant. It is both anti-democratic and polarising - and worst of all, inhibiting through intimidation. Mainstream journalists seem reluctant or afraid to tackle them - and investigate their blatant falsehoods - head-on for fear of being publicly ridiculed (often portrayed sporting a Photoshopped "Hitler moustache") - and they have the largest readership of any media outlet in the Netherlands. Even government ministers pull back from criticising its aggressive tone and explicit falsehoods. Geen Stijl is a perfect example of how the "freedom-fascists" are using their rights to intimidate and destroy the values of "fraternity", tolerance and pluralism.

Some senior journalists in the mainstream press believe that the political positioning of their newspapers is changing - for the worse. Maybe these papers are changing in line with their readership's shift towards more populist positions - but if so, we are really in trouble. The question is one of chicken and egg but it's clear that some of the worst elements of the Dutch press and media (see also "The War Within Democracy" in the counter-radicalisation section of this blog) are radicalising their readers through a constant drip-feed of the same apparent problems and issues - and of course, the readership, like the frog in the pot, is unaware of anything serious going on.

The Netherlands, deservedly, has a powerful and proud tradition of journalism and the printed press. Reading newspapers, thankfully, is still a national pastime and pleasure. And the best of Dutch journalism is probably the best in the world. But they need to remember that the future of liberal democracy itself depends a great deal on how they come through the next 5 years. They are clearly in a position of trust and they need to call-out anti-democratic forces and politicians who claim to be defending democracy. 

And the readership? For goodness sake, be more sceptical. It costs nothing. And your country's future as a liberal democracy depends on it.

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Dutch press; the best is very good, the worst is just as bad as everywhere else.