Something is faltering in Hilversum, but what does it take for a real cultural change?

Topsport, the Champions League, works at the forefront. These are the words that perhaps stuck out the most Volkskrant revealed that for many years there was a culture of fear in the talk show The world moves on (2005-2020). Presenter Matthijs van Nieuwkerk was found to have extreme anger attacks, many employees struggled with psychological complaints, such as burnout, fear and depression. The top of the television company BNNVARA did not intervene all this time because a hard-working atmosphere was part of making a well-monitored daily talk show. The editors didn’t dare speak up – a little voice had now settled in their heads: maybe you just can’t handle the pressure.

Also read: The Culture Council: extra risk of cross-border behavior in the cultural sector

For example, the conversation about cross-border behavior in Hilversum got a new boost last week. The Cultural Council already concluded this summer in its report that there is a culture of performance that encourages transgressive behavior not only in Hilversum, but in the entire culture and media sector as a whole. Over the limit. “Striving for excellence, constantly raising the bar even higher, can lead to great art,” the Council wrote in June. But there is also a risk in that mentality. It is not uncommon for physical and psychological boundaries to be strained, because “in such a performance culture there is not much room for (self) criticism. Especially when this approach leads to success – full houses, good reviews, high sales numbers – adjustments are less likely to be made.”

But in fact, something has faltered since the stories of transgressive behavior Holland’s voicerevealed by the TV show ANGRY, came out almost a year ago. State Secretary Gunay Uslu from Media and Culture (D66) then opened talks with NPO, RTL and Talpa, after which they joined Mores – the reporting center for unwanted behavior in the cultural sector. Mores has now also been tasked by the ministry with informing about prevention. But more importantly, people started speaking up. Against sexism in Medieparken, and as this week: against a culture that promotes (sexual) transgressive behaviour.

For example, Rowan Blijd, program maker for then KRO-NCRV, and now Libelle TV, told in August NRC: “The danger in our work is that you will soon be expected to do more than you promised on paper. There are many unwritten rules: always be available, be available, really them additional miles wishes to leave. And it is expected of you not once, but a hundred times. It is also cross-border. You create a basis for what is normal to demand from employees. ‘It’s part of the job’ is often said and at least as often thought.” On Wednesday, TV editor Tamar described Bot in her podcast Media girls how the organization of the television world contributes to power inequality. “Editors often spend a few months, sometimes even weeks, with an editor or a program. The flow is great. It increases the feeling: to the rest of you ten, you are interchangeable. It breeds a culture of fear.”

Too dependent

The Cultural Council also describes in its report all possible factors that ensure that the risk of cross-border behavior in the media and culture sector is high. For example, many employees compete for few places, which means that managers have disproportionate power. In addition, the number of people with a temporary contract in Hilversum is large, says Joop Daalmeijer, adviser to the Cultural Council. And that, he says, makes them too dependent.

Johan Reijnen, editor-in-chief at BNNVARA and chairman of the cooperation council for seven years, says that he has heard the rumors about a culture of fear at The world moves on knew but is still shocked by its size. What he also sees is that the ongoing extension of a temporary contract commits ‘over-exploitation’ of people. According to the television companies’ collective agreements, employees can get up to six temporary contracts and must only be employed after four years. It is then more the rule than the exception that people are sent out for six months to start again on a series of temporary contracts.

Also read: The power difference in workplaces is large in Hilversum

“In the past, broadcasting was still largely determined TV programming,” explains Reijnen. “Now such decisions rest with the NPO, and this means that broadcasters are often informed relatively late whether a program is going ahead or not.” The result is that broadcasters are far less able to assess what their budget will look like and for which programs they need people. “The television companies are therefore much more reserved than they have ever been about handing out permanent employment. This makes editors insecure and less likely to sound the alarm if they stall in their development. Or even worse: if they feel unsafe.”

Moreover, the traveling circus of editors, producers and cameramen – each time working for a different editorial office, for a different TV program – is inherent in the programming itself: few programs are on TV all year round. Most stop, as with The world moves on was the case, in the summer and around Christmas. Many other shows don’t run for more than one season at all, or sometimes just a few months.

Still, according to Reijnen, that doesn’t change the fact that you could simply hire these people in a TV station. “As a broadcaster, it is best to set up your organization in such a way that people are multi-deployable – so you can pass them on. By VARA guidewhere I myself work, for example, there is now someone there Khalid and Sophia comes from.” That program will be on a short winter break until January 7.

The management of BNNVARA also “highly supports” this, notes Reijnen. Once upon a time, he says, money was sloshing around at the public broadcasters. “After that, efficiency reigned for a long time, and now there is slowly more awareness of what such a temporary contract does to the employees and thus also to the quality of the programs.” It is not for nothing that NPO head Frederieke Leeflang also spoke explicitly against young editors’ many temporary contracts in Hilversum when she took office this summer. This week she did it again in an interview with News hour.

Thomas Bruning, secretary general of the Dutch Journalists’ Association, also sees that more and more effort is being made to make room for fewer people in a flexible layer in Hilversum. “In the most recent collective agreement, we agreed, for example, that all television companies should switch to 70 percent fixed contracts.” But as far as he’s concerned, it’s still a drop in the ocean. Because, says Bruning: For broadcasters where the share is still around 65 percent, such as EO and KRO-NCRV, or even lower, such as Omroep Max and WNL, this will lead to more people in permanent employment. 30 percent temporary employment contracts is an awful lot.” In addition, the flexible shell is actually much larger, he emphasizes. Producers who are employed as self-employed persons are not included in these figures. “If you want to include that, you end up with about 50 percent.”

Reijnen also calls it pointless to “continue to talk about percentages forever”. If the work is structural, or if someone can be posted continuously, there just needs to be a fixed contract, he believes. If, on the other hand, it concerns the work on a documentary in four episodes, then a temporary contract is still logical.

Fall out of favor

The question remains, however, to what extent fewer temporary employment contracts will ensure a safer working environment everywhere. Okay, it reduces the risk of people fearfully keeping their mouths shut, but in a culture where the standard is always that little bit faster (‘it’s my fault I can’t handle this pressure’), and where, as in Hilversum, a relatively small group of those ultimately responsible, it can still be difficult to speak out.

Furthermore, the assessment criteria have never been set in stone. What one person thinks is a fine program or a nice study guest, the other may find nothing. Falling out of favor with the person above can therefore mean that your work is also rated worse. And these are all factors that, as the Cultural Council describes, can contribute to a culture where people remain silent.

There is often a strict hierarchy in the media and culture sector, says Janke Dekker, chairman of More’s reportage center. “In the television world, for example, you deal with stars who are placed on a pedestal, who have privileges and who are considered indispensable to the program.” A large group of people work under them who are extremely ambitious but are constantly told: ten others for you. That makes it potentially very uncertain, says Dekker.

Mores received this week after revelations about a culture of fear The world moves on, unusually many messages received. “We always see the tip of the iceberg,” says Dekker. These kinds of stories release new stories from people who recognize themselves in them.

But what if the management itself behaves badly, or refuses to intervene, as with The world moves on, isn’t a hotline like More’s powerless? No, says Dekker. “We had a case here where the company wouldn’t listen at all. In the end, we were right at the College of Human Rights. Yes, the person who made the report had already left that company, but at least the abuse could not continue. For many journalists, it is also a motivation: to ensure that it does not happen to others.”

To sum up, says Johan Reijnen, 95 percent of the cases his work committee deals with can be traced back to personnel policy. It’s all tailored, he believes, and it’s a conversation you have to keep having. In order to prevent a culture of fear, Bruning, in addition to addressing the many temporary contracts, also insists on employee participation – for example in the form of an editorial board. According to Joop Daalmeijer, the management should meet more often in a newsroom, “to put the thermometer in”. “You keep Sun Gods anyway, but if you check these Sun Gods well, they will also behave more carefully.”

In collaboration with Wilfred Takken.

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