According to article 3 of the Statutes of the Foundation the Press Council is charged with the examination of complaints against violations of good journalistic practice. But not every complaint leads to such an examination. Only they, who are to be considered as directly involved in a case of journalistic (mal)practice, can complain.
Establishment and financing
At present the Netherlands Press Council is established and will be maintained by a foundation named Stichting Raad voor de Journalistiek. In the Foundation all important media organisations participate:
- the Netherlands Union of Journalists (Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten)
- the Netherlands Society of Chief-Editors (Nederlands Genootschap van Hoofdredacteuren)
- several co-ordinating organisations of printed press
- (co-ordinating) organisations of public and commercial broadcasting
The board of the Foundation appoints the members, chairmen and secretaries of the Press Council. The Press Council consists of four (vice) chairmen, ten member-journalists and ten members-not-journalists. The chairmen and members all do theirs work in their spare time and beside their normal jobs. The chairman is a high-profile journalist, his substitutes are members of the judiciary. The member-journalists have various jobs in journalism such as editor, editor-in-chief or freelance journalist. The non-journalist members have different positions in society. The secretary and acting secretary must be a lawyer.
Further the board of the Foundation determines the regulations of the Press Council.
Over the years the statutes and regulations have been adjusted. Since 1993 there has been for a long time the possibility of mediation between complainant and journalist. As from that same year the Press Council can give a statement of opinion about a case of principal interest on its own initiative. Up till now this has happened four times: about the use of stolen information by journalists (RvdJ 1995/32), about the use of hidden camera's and microphone's (RvdJ 1996/44), about embargo (RvdJ 2003/50) and about the air crash in Tripoli (RvdJ 2010/35).
Since January 2003 a complainant could apply for an accelerated treatment of his complaint. Further the Press Council introduced consistency in its decisions by expressing the tendency in its decisions, referring to its earlier opinions in similar cases.
In February 2005 a term of six months was implemented, in which a complaint must be filed. In order to shorten its procedure during several years the Press Council hired freelance clerks, all working at the Council of State, to formulate draft decisions.
Furthermore the Press Council has looked into the possibilities and ways to play a more active role in the public debate on journalistic practice. In that aspect the Press Council has worked on a guidebook for journalistic behaviour. With its decisions the Press Council intends to formulate standards of good journalistic practice and to direct the development of these standards. The Press Council has written down these standards in a guidebook. The aim of this guidebook is to contribute to the transparency and the surveyability of the judgements of the Press Council on behalf of the professionals and the public. The guidebook was presented at the Annual Meeting of 24 April 2007. Because of the development of standards concerning publications on the Internet, the guidebook was amended for the first time in April 2008. Further the guidebook was amended in September 2010.
On the basis of the results of the comparative research “Press Councils in Western Europe” the Netherlands Press Council has taken several steps to improve its organisation. The council has attracted five ‘public members’ from civil society through an open selection procedure (we’ve received more than 250 highly qualified applications).
Further, as from March 1st 2010, new regulations for the council’s activities had become effective, in which was provided for:
- more mediation activities;
- a simplified procedure for processing complaints (by the chairman and secretary together) in cases where the council clearly has no jurisdiction, the complainant is obviously inadmissible and/or the complaint is plainly unjustified;
- the possibility of reviewing decisions of the council.
Moreover the staff of the council was increased for some years with a paid chairman for 16 hours/week and an assistant secretary for 20 hours/week. To implement these improvements, the council needed more funding and therefore it has applied for additional financial support by the government. This support was granted for a temporary period of three years.
In 2012 the council (again) faced some serious criticism about its organisation. Therefore a committee drafted a proposal with suggestions to renew the council. After several discussions among all council and board members the following changes were made:
- as of March 2013 the chairman of the Press Council is a high profile journalist and no longer a lawyer. This chairman has an important representing role in order to increase the status of the council. Unlike the prior chairmen he does not lead any chambers of the council (which chambers criticise the complaints).
- since 1st November 2013 the following changes in the complaints procedure of the Netherlands Press Council have become effective:
- The council is transformed in to a ‘secondary body’ and therefore:
- a complainant is obliged to file his complain to the journalist/editor first;
- the so-called accelerated procedure and mediation has been abolished.
- In principle the council withholds its opinion in complaints addressed to media/journalists who basically do not co-operate with the council, unless the case is of a higher, general importance.
- The council has reduced its ‘judicial’ appearance by simplifying its decisions.
The complaint must concern journalistic practice of either a professional journalist or someone who, on a regular basis and for remuneration, collaborates on the editorial content of a mass medium.
Besides, the Press Council cannot treat complaints concerning the maintaining of the standard of good taste or general complaints against the press. The complaint always must be in regard of a specific matter, as far as journalistic practice is concerned.
Since the change from a disciplinary council to a council of opinion the Press Council no longer can impose a sentence on the journalist. Neither can the Press Council assure the complainant financial compensation. The Press Council gives its opinion on a complaint and publishes its decision on its website and in the professional magazine for journalists. Also it circulates its decisions on a wide scale by sending it to the national news agency and to several other media.
As a satisfaction to the complainant and as a contribute to the debate on journalistic ethics, it is of great importance that media publish the opinions of the Press Council, especially those on valid or partially valid complaints. The number of media, which actually publish in valid and partially valid cases, is now around two-third, and still growing.