Freedom of the Press 2014 - Netherlands

2014 Scores

Press Status: Free
Press Freedom Score: (0 = best, 100 = worst) 10
Legal Environment: (0 = best, 30 = worst) 1
Political Environment: (0 = best, 40 = worst) 5
Economic Environment: (0 = best, 30 = worst) 4

The media in the Netherlands remained open, accessible, and diverse in 2013, operating in one of the freest environments in the world. Freedom of expression is safeguarded under Article 7 of the constitution, although there are some provisions banning hate speech and discrimination. In December 2013, the upper house of parliament voted to invalidate the blasphemy law, completing its repeal. There had not been a blasphemy case in the Netherlands since 1968. Nevertheless, insulting the monarchy or police remained illegal in 2013. Freedom of expression usually carries more weight in court decisions, but between 2000 and 2012 there were reportedly at least 19 registered court cases and 9 convictions for insulting the monarchy. The Netherlands also continued to lack specific national legislation ensuring the right of journalists to protect their sources. In July 2013, the Council of Ministers sent a bill to the Council of State that would amend the criminal code to include such protections. However, the Council of State had not taken a definite decision on this potential legislative change at year's end.

Article 110 of the constitution stipulates that the government must observe the principle of transparency and requires government agencies to publish information. Under the 1991 Government Information (Public Access) Act, any person is allowed to demand information pertaining to an administrative matter. If the information is located in documents belonging to a public body or a private company conducting work for a public entity, the authorities must respond within a period of two weeks.

An independent body established by the government, the Commissariat for the Media, assesses developments in the Dutch media landscape on a yearly basis, focusing on independence, pluralism, and accessibility. The body has the authority to impose fines, revoke media licenses, and limit broadcast time.

Although the internet is free, there are some restrictions on the promotion of illegal materials, such as child-abuse images. In 2012, Stichting BREIN, a Dutch antipiracy organization, won a court case against the file-sharing website Pirate Bay. Subsequently, a district court in The Hague ordered internet providers to block the site. It remained blocked for most of 2013. Several internet providers appealed the decision, but the court case was delayed until 2014. Although the parliament on several occasions discussed the possibility of a law that would prohibit the downloading of copyrighted material, it had not agreed on any of the proposals by year's end.

Journalists in the Netherlands practice a degree of self-censorship, particularly on sensitive issues such as immigration and religion. There are some indications this has increased since the 2004 murder of the controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist. Physical attacks and intimidation directed against journalists are rare. In December 2013, journalist Jan Beckers was threatened after he published information suggesting that the perpetrators of a 1977 train hijacking had been deliberately killed by Dutch marines. Lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who was representing the family members of the hijackers, also received death threats.

Newspaper ownership is highly concentrated in the Netherlands, with three companies owning more than 80 percent of paid newspapers. In 2010, the government abolished a law that prohibited ownership of more than 35 percent of the print sector; one company can now own up to 50 percent. In April 2013, the government also announced plans to cut the budget for the public broadcaster, Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS), and merge the 21 public broadcasting channels into 8 by 2016. A wide variety of private domestic and foreign channels are available to viewers in the Netherlands, which has one of the highest cable television subscription rates in Europe. Despite the high ownership concentration, a variety of opinions are expressed in the media.

The internet was used by 94 percent of the population in 2013. In 2011, the parliament adopted the first "net neutrality" law in Europe and only the second in the world after Chile, barring telecommunications companies from obstructing or charging users extra for certain data-intensive online services, such as Skype.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.