According to those involved, Van Nieuwkerk had extreme outbursts of anger where employees were ‘shouted at, humiliated and intimidated’ in front of others from a centimeter away. It caused stress, a sense of insecurity and even burnout and other serious psychological disorders, according to them de Volkskrant. The top of the television company BNNVara was repeatedly warned, but would not have intervened.
Several former employees are said to still suffer from anxiety and nightmares today. In one of dozens of incidents, after a mistake about the sound in the show, Van Nieuwkerk screamed and demanded that the sound man involved apologize, humbly saying ‘sorry Mr. Van Nieuwkerk’. The incident went ‘across all boundaries’, says a person involved. “It was as if the devil entered him,” adds one editor.
Van Nieuwkerk, who still works at the broadcaster, who initially did not want to respond to the investigation, made himself heard on Friday afternoon. “I’m very sorry that we couldn’t seem to make everyone feel safe and comfortable, and that it even made colleagues sick,” he said.
“Now we have a series of inconvenient things to do. Unfortunately they don’t take time, but they make you think. This mirror will hang in my room.’ BNNVara said that this statement ‘will be included in the considerations and in the conversations we have with Matthijs.’
Some former employees say they have been further harmed by the former editor-in-chief DWDD Dieuwke Wynia. She and Van Nieuwkerk were often seen as the golden duo behind the success of the talk show, a twosome. In reality, that was not the case, she says now. “I fought with Matthijs,” she says. “His tantrums were intense, he seemed like a different person at such moments.”
She continues: ‘When we talk about perpetrators and victims, I am in a gray area. I have tried so often to approach Matthijs about his behavior, so often asked him to adopt a different attitude towards people. If he had failed, I would call him in the evening. Sometimes he just lost his way with me one more time.’ She admits that she herself has been ‘blunt’ and ‘lacking empathy’. “I’m sorry.”
Wynia says she raised Van Nieuwkerk’s behavior several times with Frans Klein, who was media director at BNNVara at the time and NPO director since 2014. She said he did nothing. Klein states that he actually acted when staff turnover turned out to be remarkably high, for example by expanding the newsroom. In retrospect, it was “maybe not enough.”
BNNVara says it is shocked by former employees’ stories. The broadcaster acknowledges that Van Nieuwkerk and Wynia should have been held accountable for their behavior and calls it painful that this did not happen.
“The pressure to make a good program should never come at the expense of our staff,” said the broadcaster, which has opened a helpline with an external organisation. ‘We want a culture where this kind of behavior is accepted to never arise.’ The current management has had ‘incisive conversations’ with Van Nieuwkerk and continues to speak with him.
The NPO is also shocked and says it will continue to work for a safe working environment. “This should never have happened,” the statement said. Thomas Bruning, Secretary General of the Dutch Association of Journalism (NVJ), says via Twitter: ‘This is precisely why NVJ has been arguing for a safer culture in broadcasting for years. Temporary contracts and mediocre freelance contracts lead to dependence on employees who do not dare to report abuse’.
Cross-border behavior follows the advice Across the border, towards a common culture, which the Culture Council published in June last year, not only about sexual harassment and assault. It can also involve bullying, racism, sexism, discrimination and other forms of unwanted behavior that lead to an unsafe working environment.
Victims often develop physical and psychological disorders such as stress, burnout and depression. It also occurs in other sectors, but in the culture and media sector there are specific risk factors that give extra vulnerability, says the council. For example, the sector often selects from a wide range of talent, while there are only a limited number of performance and show places.
It is the second time this year that Van Nieuwkerk’s behavior has been widely reported behind the scenes. At the end of June The telegraph a former employee also spoke who spoke of ‘monstrous behaviour’ by the presenter and DWDDeditor-in-chief Dieuwke Wynia. BNNVara then stated in a reaction that ‘the working climate in the newsrooms has been a continuous point of attention for some time now’.