The urgency of freedom of the press got clearer since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the journalists reporting about the pandemic and its consequences have been under attack of Covid deniers. In 2020, the national broadcaster NOS felt compelled to hide its logo from the reporter vans that travel across the Netherlands, because they were confronted with intimidating behavior from protestors of the Dutch Covid-19 measures. In the summer of 2021, two men threw Mol- otov cocktails into journalist Willem Groeneveld’s home. The two men were Covid deniers and wanted to scare the journalist, who has written articles against conspiracy theorists. Fortunately, Groeneveld did not get hurt as he managed to extinguish the fire that was caused by the Molotov cocktails.
The attack against Groeneveld was a low point, but it is not the only incident where journalists in the Netherlands were targeted. In 2021, 272 journalists were threatened or attacked whilst doing their work. In 2020, this number was much lower, being 121. Since freedom of the press is one of the most important themes for NVJ, we have established PersVeilig (Press Safety) a few years ago. This is a joint initiative of NVJ, the Dutch society of chief editors, the Dutch national police and the Public Prosecution Service. Together we aim to strengthen the position of journalists when they are faced with violence and aggression in the streets or on social media, as well as when they are faced with legal action.
HOW TO DEAL WITH AGGRESSION
PersVeilig offers several services to journalists and media. When confronted with violence, journalists can follow a special protocol drafted by PersVeilig. The protocol states that media out- lets file a police report on behalf of the journalists who are dealing with aggression. The prosecutor’s office treats police reports regarding violence against journalists with high priority, and punishments against perpetrators are high. Furthermore, PersVeilig offers media outlets and journalists a course in how to deal with aggression, and how to de-escalate possibly dangerous situations.
It is important that we do more to protect journalists. That is why the NVJ supports the international mission by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) on the safety of journalists in the Netherlands that will map the declining security of journalists. With the increase in attacks on journalists, the state of press freedom in the Netherlands is receiving more and more international attention. The international mission on the safety of journalists in the Netherlands will consist of discussions with journalists and editors-in-chief, policymakers, the police and the Public Prosecution Service, experts, and members of the parliament. The end result will be a comprehensive report on the safety of journalists in the Netherlands, and it will be presented in an international press conference as the conclusion of the mission.Hopefully the report will be useful for journalists in other countries as well. Because a society can only be free if freedom of the press is guaranteed