The Dutch public broadcasting system has specific characteristics that make it unique in the world. Several broadcasters hold certain requirements – such as the representation of religious, cultural, and political groups – while sharing studios and broadcasting facilities owned by the government. Weekly broadcasts, from a few hours to whole days, are allocated on the basis of the “representation quotas” of individual groups.
This concept is a direct emanation of a typically Dutch structure, called pillarisation, which developed at the beginning of the last century. The country’s various political and religious groups, initially dominated by Protestants, Catholics, and Socialists, each had their own associations, schools, hospitals, sports clubs, newspapers and, later, television and radio channels.
In this context, the associations of listeners and viewers were very influential, conditioning the content of the programs or even blocking them if not considered representative of their own group.
A system of media quotas around the Dutch approach to multiculturalism (in theory, decidedly inclusive and respectful) was implemented over the years, broadening the groups represented. Today, the Dutch radio and television system includes broadcasters of all kinds: from generalists such as AVROTROS, to those dedicated to 50plus such as MAX, up to BNN, oriented to young people between 18 and 30 years of age. BNN was also the protagonist in the ’00s of an interesting rebranding project of the four public radio stations – in Utrecht, Den Haag, Rotterdam and Amsterdam – integrated into the FunX network: within the framework of the “quotas”, the aim was to give space to an urban and multicultural broadcaster that became the flagship of the Dutch media scene.
However, the success of FunX was hampered by the heavy cuts to public broadcasting made by the resigning Balkanende government in 2010. This austerity affected everyone, including Radio Nederland Wereldomroep (RNW), the Dutch international radio and television service founded in 1947, which produced and broadcast programmes in Dutch, Indonesian, English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Afrikaans, and Portuguese for an international audience.
Despite the cuts and changing times, religious “representation quotas” persist within the Dutch media system, with mainstream Catholic (KRO-NCRV) and Protestant broadcasters, the liberal VPRO and the more conservative Evangelische Omroep, flanked by niche programs for Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews. No one is denied a couple of hours of broadcasting, and this is also the same for Human, a small station that caters to secularists.
Less fortunate, from the ’90s to today, are the Islamic broadcasters: NMO, NIO, and Moslim Omroep, who closed because of low ratings. In the case of NMO, it closed following a financial scandal of considerable magnitude.
The wave of xenophobic nationalism that hit Holland after the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004, which saw the rise of Geert Wilders and the PVV, marked the birth of the “populist shares”: in particular, two public broadcasters that reflect and exploit the social stomachaches of the last ten years. One is Wakker Nederland (Wake up Holland!), founded in 2009 by the Telegraaf publishing group, and the other is PowNed, launched in 2010 as a spinoff of GeenStijl.nl, another creature of the same group.