Central in the Dutch media policy are freedom of speech and independence. Following the constitution, the government is obliged to guarantee plurality, accessibility and affordability of information. It encourages that the media system in general represents a sound variety of viewpoints and that media are protected against all kinds of undesired influences. Article 7 of the constitution offers independence of all media. Journalists, writers and broadcasters can publish and broadcast whatever they wish. They are fully responsible for the content, any interference from government in advance is prohibited (no censorship). Public and commercial broadcasters are obliged to take measures to ensure editorial independency of their journalists. In 2019, the Netherlands was ranked 4th in the World Press Freedom Index.
In 1967, the Broadcasting Act (Omroepwet) was created for the distribution of broadcasting. The act made it possible for public broadcasters to enter the media sector. Criterion for the broadcasters were a philosophical or/and political ideology and a certain number of subscribers. In 1988, the Broadcasting Act was replaced by the Media Act (Mediawet) with supervision of the Dutch Media Authority (Commissariaat voor de Media). The Dutch Media Authority aims “to protect the independence, the plurality, and accessibility of the audiovisual media in our country.”
As a result of emerging commercial broadcasters and to ensure pluralistic media content, the Media Act was adjusted in 1991. The Temporary Act Media Concentration (Tijdelijke wet mediaconcentraties) was into force between 2007 and 2011, which included limitations for cross-media ownership. From 2011 onwards, this issue is part of the general rules concerning competition. In 2008, the Media Act (Mediawet 2008)was renewed and a major change compared with previous versions of the Act is that public broadcasters are now formally responsible to use all modern media platforms and distribution channels, such as websites, digital channels and services offered by mobile platforms, as well as for radio and television. Like the previous Media Acts, the Media Act 2008 instructs public broadcasters to pay special attention to information, youth and culture in their programmes. Modifications of the Media Act 2008 took place in 2016, concerning the future of the public broadcasting system in a sector were on-demand watching increases and advertisement income declines. An example of one of the measures is the aim of informative, educational and/or cultural content (see also chapter 4.2.6).
In the 2017 Media Pluralism Monitor Report, the Netherlands scores very well on the criteria for media pluralism. Three areas in the Dutch media sector are at low risk: basic protection risk (13%), political independence of media (23%) and social inclusiveness (32%). The low risk on basic protection is caused by the Dutch legal framework in which the position of journalists and working conditions are recognised. Risk regarding political independence scores low because of “the absence of legislation regulating conflict of interests between owners of media and politics.” Social inclusiveness scores low on risk as well, although three indicators score between 40% and 60%. The Netherlands scores 46% (medium risk) on media plurality, “mainly because of a strong media ownership concentration and a weak transparency of ownership.”
The Netherlands consists of a dual broadcasting system that includes commercial and public broadcasters. The Dutch Foundation for Public Broadcasting (Nederlandse Publieke Omroep, NPO) functions as the umbrella organisation for public broadcasters and is financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Dutch public broadcasting organisations are member-based associations sharing common facilities. This arrangement has its origins in the pillarisation of Dutch society in the previous century: different social, religious and political streams all had their own separate associations, newspapers, sports clubs, educational institutions and broadcasting organisations.
Nowadays, the Media Act 2008 stimulates plurality through the following objective: “Public media services should be concerned with public values and should meet the democratic, social and cultural needs of Dutch society.” (Article 2.1) Most of the broadcasting organisations programme culture, specifically the NTR, which has a designated task to provide programmes on arts and culture. The other national broadcasters that programme culture are: AVROTROS, BNN VARA, KRO/NCRV, VPRO, MAX and EO. In general, according to the report Het culturele leven (The cultural life), public broadcasting organisations spent more time on culture (7.1%) than commercial broadcasters (3.4%) in 2017.
Commercial broadcasters do not receive financial contributions from the government, but the Media Act 2008 imposes a number of requirements on them as well. The commercial broadcasters are not allowed to broadcast sponsored news, and at least 40 percent of the programmes must be produced in the Dutch or Frisian language. At least 50 percent of the programmes aired by public broadcasters must be produced in the Dutch or Frisian language. In 2017, 85 percent of the programmes aired by thenational public broadcasterswere Dutch.
On a regional level, each province has one or two public broadcaster(s) and these regional public broadcasters receive subsidy from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The Netherlands also includes approximately 260 local public broadcasters that receive subsidy from the local government. The common interests of these broadcasters are served by the Foundation of Dutch Local Public Broadcasters (Stichting Nederlandse Lokale Publieke Omroepen).
As mentioned, the Dutch media sector has to deal with increasing numbers of on-demand watching and declining advertisement incomes. The Minister of Media also announced that he will not financially compensate the national public broadcast in their loss of incomes. In 2018, the Council for Culture mentioned in their advisory report that this problem will have consequences for the quality and quantity of Dutch audiovisual productions, which will affect media pluriformity. The top three organisations in each media category with the highest market shares are:
- Television broadcasters (2018):
- NPO: 32.0%
- RTL Nederland: 20.8%
- Talpa TV: 14.3%
- Radio broadcasters (2018):
- NPO Radio 2: 12.6%
- Radio 538: 11.6%
- Sky Radio: 9.2%
- Newspaper publishers (2017)
- De Persgroep: 49.8%
- Mediahuis Nederland: 39.1%
- NDC Mediagroep: 6.5%
 There are no public newspapers in the Netherlands, as Dutch press traditionally has been a private enterprise.