Belgian Press Regulator – Not Fit For Purpose

Belgian Press Regulator – Not Fit For Purpose

PMI pursued a complaint with the Belgian Press Ombudsman RVDJ for an article that we flagged on 3rd August LAST YEAR.

10 months and 19 days later,  RVDJ managed to make their belated decision and stated the complaint was “unfounded”.

Originally, Nieuwsblad wrote: “Gröning gaf tijdens zijn proces toe dat hij een “enthousiaste nazi” was toen hij in 1942 – op 21-jarige leeftijd – tewerkgesteld werd in het Poolse concentratiekamp Auschwitz.” = “…employed in the Polish concentration camp Auschwitz in 1942″.

After interventions from PMI members they changed it to “nazi concentratiekamp Auschwitz” but Nieuwsblad did not reply to emails or apologise for their bad mistake.

The token correction and lack of contrition forced the complaint. If they could use the word “Polish”, why not the word “German” to truthfully and accurately describe the camp?

In the adjudication and despite all the evidence PMI submitted, RVDJ [wrongly] decided “Polish” was only reflecting the geography. An excuse that we have heard many times and which is factually and grammatically incorrect since the camp was German and in an area that Germany annexed into the Third Reich during the war. The Belgian Code for Journalists makes it clear that accuracy and truth are important but these are apparently empty words. According to RVDJ, it is OK to be misleading and inaccurate!

PMI responded, in Dutch, to 2 submissions from Nieuwsblad/Mediahuis. This took time and effort. Nearly 150 emails were exchanged! The first submission from Nieuwsblad was peculiar; the second was bizarre. RVDJ then announced they would be holding a hearing on the 29th March, in Brussels, to discuss the case but provided no details to our requests on the purpose or format of the hearing. They had already read the submissions. What more was expected? Reading the submissions out loud, in Dutch? PMI did request the Polish Embassies in Brussels to assist and provide a representative or witness to the proceedings but there were no real responses. But, we did instruct RVDJ that the hearing be held without our presence.

BUT RVDJ ignored our request and cancelled the hearing on the due day! It was rearranged for 25th May. PMI did not attend. We then had to wait for a “Full” meeting of the Council for them to discuss the recommendations from the hearing. Finally, we got to hear the adjudication 10 months after the article appeared. What is the point of such a SLOW system that is supposed to deal with NEWS and journalism? What use is such a belated judgement?  (In comparison, UK regulator IPSOS deals with issues within weeks).

Oh, and according their website TWO of the Full Council members are from Mediahuis. It is not clear whether they recused themselves or what influence they may have had with their council colleagues. It is great – this concept of self-regulation! It does raise the question of who it actually serves. I suppose with 21 cases in 6 months RVDJ have to spin things out to justify their bureaucratic existence.

RVDJ failed to notice that the “misunderstanding” was not helped by Nieuwsblad’s allergy to using the word German and being truthful. Or their inability to follow the Code for Journalists. It was not their first mistake; many other examples exist of similar errors.  Nazi is not a country. Auschwitz was a German Nazi camp that existed in German-occupied Poland during WW2. Also ignored was the fact that “Polish” must not be used in this context since it is inaccurate, offensive and would be a form of Holocaust Denial and Distortion under internationally agreed definitions.

We are left wondering what was the point of all the time-consuming effort if, nearly a year later, RVDJ did not consider the facts and had no apparent interest in ensuring accuracy and the avoidance of misleading distortions. A Press Regulator that takes so long to deal with a simple issue and who dodged accuracy could be considered a total waste of time.

Photo (by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT) shows the Chinese Pavilion in Brussels. According to RVDJ is should be renamed as the BELGIAN Pavilion.


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