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The Media Act in force since 2009 is growing outdated as it does not meet the current trends towards digitisation and convergence.


By 2016, only eight broadcasters and three candidate-broadcasters will be admitted to the Netherlands Public Broadcasting System, instead of the 21 that are active now.

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Netherlands/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.6 Media pluralism and content diversity


The Media Act

The Dutch media is based on freedom of speech and independency. Following the constitution, the government is obliged to guarantee plurality, accessibility and affordability of information. Article 7 of the constitution offers independence to the press and broadcasting. Journalists and writers can publish and broadcast whatever they wish. Public authorities, enterprises and interest groups may not interfere with content. Central government has an obligation to protect the media against all kinds of undesired influences. It must also ensure that the media system represents a sound variety of viewpoints. On top of that, media services should be accessible and affordable for everyone in the Netherlands. The organisational structure, funding principles and operational scope of public broadcasters in the Netherlands are laid down in the Media Act. The Media Act also includes a number of basic requirements for commercial broadcasters and cable operators.

The most recent Media Act, the Media Act 2008, came into force in 2009. A major change compared with previous versions of the act is that public broadcasters are now formally responsible for websites, digital channels and services offered by mobile platforms, as well as for radio and television. Just like the previous Media Acts, the Media Act 2008 instructs public broadcasters to pay special attention to information, youth and culture in their programmes. The Media Act derived from the Broadcasting Act of 1967 and is based on the anchored dichotomy between electronic and print media. In the media digitisation and convergence are playing a leading role, and they do not fit well in this outdated law. The tension between the letters of the law and the daily practice of the media which is driven by technological developments, therefore, grows.

The commercial broadcasters do not receive financial contributions from central government, but the Media Act imposes a number of requirements on them as well. The commercial broadcasters are not allowed to broadcast sponsored news, and at least 40% of the programmes must be produced in the Dutch or Frisian language (click here for more information).

Netherlands Public Broadcasting (NPO)

The Netherlands Public Broadcasting [Nederlandse Publieke Omroep, NPO] functions both as the public-service broadcasting system as a whole, and as the web portal coordinated by the NPO on behalf of all the broadcasting associations. NPO is part of the Netherlands Broadcasting Corporation [Nederlandse Omroep Stichting, NOS], the umbrella organisation for public broadcasters. Differently from most other countries, Dutch public broadcasting organisations are member-based associations sharing common facilities.

This arrangement has its origins in the pillarisation which developed over the previous century, when the different religious and political streams in Dutch society (Catholics, Protestants, socialists, etc.) all had their own separate associations, newspapers, sports clubs, educational institutions, and broadcasting organisations. Part of this arrangement was a general agreement that programmes in the field of culture, sport or news should be taken care of by the NOS as a common facility. Both the broadcasting organisations and the NOS are subsidised by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

Reorganisation of the Dutch media system

In common with most other sectors, the NPO has had to cope with budget cuts. During the Rutte I administration (2010-2012), the public broadcast budget was cut by around 127 million EUR. Under the coalition agreement of the Rutte II Cabinet (2012-), further budget cuts were announced. The State Secretary of Culture, Sander Dekker, announced three steps to reform the Dutch media system and implement the budget cuts:

  • By 2016, only eight broadcasters and three candidate-broadcasters are admitted to the Netherlands Public Broadcasting System, instead of the 21 that are active now. Broadcasters with a candidate status will have to work together with one of the merger broadcasters, independent broadcasters or NTR. NTR and NOS function in this new public media system as task broadcasters for respectively news and art and culture. From 2016 onwards the public broadcasters will have to be more distinctive, innovative and agile. This implicates, for instance, limiting the overlap with the commercial stations. The public broadcasters have the statutory duty to make programmes that inform, educate or relate to cultural identity. In addition, other organisations, like cultural organisations, will have the opportunity to contribute to the programming, as of 2016.
  • State Secretary Dekker submitted a "modernisation" bill to parliament that provides for the merger of broadcasting associations. This bill is meant to facilitate the reorganisation plans initiated by the Rutte I Cabinet (2010-2012).
  • The public broadcasting systems own income must be increased. It receives an annual sum from central government, which is partly based on the income from radio and TV advertising via the STER advertising organisation. Besides this, public broadcasting generates its own income from contributions from funds, transmission fees, members' subscriptions, sales of rights and programme guides. The central government wants the public broadcasting system to generate more income by exploiting its media content more effectively, and by increasing income from radio and TV advertising.
  • The regional and the national public media will be integrated. This should improve efficiency of operations and save expenditure on regional broadcasting. Local broadcasting remains connected to the municipalities.

With the above-mentioned measures, central government will implement budget cuts of around 127 million EUR initiated by the Rutte I Cabinet (2010-2012). With effect from 2016, the Rutte II Cabinet (2012-2017) wanted to reduce the state media contribution by an additional EUR 100 million. However, in the latest budget agreement (autumn 2013), it was decided that this cut would be reduced from EUR 100 to 50 million.

In March 2016, the new media act was adopted following amendments in both Houses of Parliament. The Senate finally passed additional legislation in October 2016, enabling the measures aimed at national broadcasters to take effect. Television and radio programs should focus in future on information, culture and education.

The State Secretary has succeeded in ensuring that organizations or universities will be allowed to make programmes, but the broadcasters will continue to play a crucial role as co-producers.

The Media act of March 2016 created one central broadcaster for the regions, with thirteen regional branches. Further legislation was postponed and will be subject for the new government. It faced with opposition from the majority of regional broadcasters, who want to remain independent.

Newspapers and magazines

The government aims to support and protect freedom of speech through a free and diverse press. It has no say in the form and content of newspapers, magazines and other products that roll off the printing presses. The press has traditionally been a private enterprise. There are no public newspapers. These daily papers are suffering from a decline in subscribers. Young people are less inclined to read them than the older generation, and the internet has taken over a large part of their role of supplying information. In order to survive the process of digitisation, the newspapers now offer online subscriptions.

Chapter published: 13-03-2017

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