reading time 5 minutes
The Van Rijn committee’s blame hangs over the Media Park like a gray Dutch rain cloud.
It is an extremely strange report that an investigative committee led by Martin van Rijn has released into misconduct at the public broadcaster. The title Nothing seen, nothing heard and nothing done. The Lost Responsibility promises a lot, but upon reading it soon becomes clear that much more has been missed. The authors are quite long-winded and it takes a long time before they seem to get to the point. This is not intended as a reproach, because anyone who undertakes a painful investigation such as this must explain the motives, definitions and working method very precisely and extensively.
What else does the report offer? Especially big words. Chapter 2 begins thus:
“Screaming culture shouted in people’s faces huge raised voices arguments humiliate people until they run away crying hard tirades rotten/out/the skin full of abuse verbally abused kicking people into the ground breathing fire furiously shouting as if war had broken out no longer reasonable reputation as flammable public outbursts of anger, humiliation and aggression, beating someone up, throwing papers, throwing chairs on the table, throwing telephones, hitting the table with your hand, coming physically close, making a fuss, approaching someone in an angry manner”
That goes on for a long time. Anyone who wants to know exactly what happened, when and who played which role will be disappointed. The Van Rijn committee’s blame hangs over the Media Park like a gray Dutch rain cloud. That is common when something goes wrong in the Netherlands: everyone and everything did it.
It is also remarkable that apparently many committee spokespersons did not describe what had happened to them themselves, but what they had experienced with others: what had been done to colleagues and not to themselves. Prof. Dr. Naomi Ellemers, university professor in Utrecht, stated on television that they had started looking for social facts and that they were very important.
Of course, we sensational readers immediately turn to the chapter on DWDD. The committee emphasizes once again how many conversations have been held with people who “reported that they had experienced fear and complaints as a result of inappropriate behavior of which they themselves were not the target.” We are reading:
“According to DWDD employees, verbal intimidation in particular occurred on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis. They described this in the conversations as: ‘yelling’, ‘shouting’, ‘screeching’, ‘getting hysterical’ or ‘making tirades’. The interlocutors described this form of intimidation as: ‘ferocious’, ‘exploding’, ‘going out of control’, ‘out of control’ and ‘not being able to reason’. In particular, the humiliating effect of public verbal intimidation for the people involved and its broader consequences for others in the area were described in the conversations and identified as harmful.”
This all sounds very serious, but there is little you can do about it if in fact everyone is to blame. You are only feeding the rumor circuit with this combination of vagueness and sensational terms. Matthijs van Nieuwkerk has now been discredited again. Until now, he has mainly been associated with verbal harassment. Now he is accused of violent conduct and sexual misconduct. There is nothing to read about this in the Van Rijn report. It is precisely because of this that the messages came out from other sources. Van Nieuwkerk himself indignantly rejects the allegations. In this way, the report raises questions instead of providing answers.
This method means that Martin van Rijn et al. can only come up with recommendations that are guaranteed not to go further than patient paper and nice explanations on “away days”. It mainly concerns bureaucratic processes.
• Recognize the harmfulness of all forms of (sexual) inappropriate behavior. • Take responsibility for all employees affected by this. Make responsibilities clear: • Develop leadership competencies • Demonstrate exemplary behavior • Guide presenters and protect them from themselves • Invest in employees • Don’t be blinded by average employee satisfaction • Strengthen the HR function • Don’t look away and speak to each other • Show what you can do does • Ensure that reporting pays off • Look at patterns beyond incidents • Broaden the perspective of administrators • Strengthen supervision and attach consequences to it • Give the NPO a connecting role • Keep competition and cooperation in balance • Investigate the role and financial flows of production houses
In practice, “look at patterns, not at incidents” will ensure that perpetrators get away with it. That of those leadership competencies is also a very nice one. Or “Show exemplary behavior”. Look at me keeping my hands to myself at the Christmas drinks!
Perhaps the most important fact in this highly unsatisfactory report is the comment that many people wanted to talk about the injustice done to others and that it was so difficult for them. The social facts, as Professor Ellemers says. Everything has been seen. Everyone looked away and suffered in silence.
These days a lot of attention is being paid to a book by Rinke Verkerk, The whole Village knew it. That is about sexual abuse and how ultimately the victim is isolated by the environment. This event in public broadcasting strongly reminds us of that.
Ultimately it is a matter of mentality. At my work we often complained about each other and other people’s performance, but behavior as indicated in Van Rijn’s report did not occur. That was unthinkable. Contracts of newcomers who were noticeably struggling were not extended. A performance like that of Matthijs van Nieuwkerk would have only left us astonished. Then we just left him alone. Or someone had grabbed him firmly by the throat, as he reportedly did to subordinates at DWDD. If Matthijs had worked with us, he would have been fine. We quickly unlearned him. We also always had to laugh at prima donnas. No, we had protected Matthijs van Nieuwkerk from himself in time.
The problem is: this is not easy to capture in a policy. It’s about an atmosphere, about a culture. Anyone who studies the history of the media discovers that there are quite a few narcissists. Think of infamous types such as Randolph Hearst, Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), Rupert Murdoch or in the Netherlands Hak Holdert, who made De Telegraaf famous. They spread the poison around them. As long as everyone remains silent, they will continue to do their thing. That silence can only be broken in one way: if those around do not look away but name the man and horse with great accuracy. Without respect of persons. Otherwise, there will be no safety in the workplace.
The narcissism of the media boys and the cowardice of those around them are compellingly shown in Citizen Kane, the brilliant film by Orson Welles.
For the rest, I am of the opinion that the surcharge scandal should not disappear from public attention, nor should the affair surrounding Groningen natural gas.
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