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Dutch day of action for Haiti

The Netherlands is in the grip of a showbiz frenzy as broadcasters unite for a day of action to raise funds for those affected by the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

 
All of the Netherlands' popular radio and tv stations have become one for a day, in order to broadcast a 24-hour appeal for aid to the stricken people of Haiti. Setting aside their deep-grained rivalry, public and commercial broadcasters have teamed up to beam a national fund-raising programme around the country. A similar event took place after the 2004 tsunami disaster.

Around the clock
The national radio station for-a-day began broadcasting early in the morning, and TV channels will take over in the evening. Taking its name from the joint bank account number of the country's aid agencies, Radio 555 programmes are hosted by popular deejays and sponsored by major companies. Major artists are performing live in the shows free of charge, sometimes saying they won't play a single note before another substantial donation for Haiti has come in. Representatives of big companies are playfully humiliated on-air to pressure them into donating more, while individuals who give a modest 10 euros are greeted with applause and fanfares.

The studio call centre taking donations is manned by celebrities and prominent members of society like Development Aid Minister Bert Koenders. Mr Koenders has promised that the government will double the amount collected when the action ends on Thursday.

Open the Village
Using showbiz techniques to raise funds goes back a long way in the Netherlands. In the early days of TV, an around-the-clock fundraiser in 1962 to build a village for handicapped people has become legendary. Hosted on the country's only channel by the nation's favourite girl, presenter Mies Bouwman, celebrities and common people alike pledged to donate. The total received during the show was 16 million guilders - 40 million euros when corrected for today's inflation and income levels. The specially adapted village was built and exists to this day near the city of Arnhem.

When the dikes burst
But the "Open the Village" marathon was not the first use of Dutch mass media for a good cause. Even before the first TV set was sold in the Netherlands, radio came to the fore when half the country was struck by a flood disaster in 1953. A hurricane-force storm broke the dikes and flooded the southwestern part of the country, as well as areas in Belgium and the UK. The ideological broadcasting companies who normally bickered over the amount of airtime they were given, set aside their quarrels and broadcast a weekly show, "Open your purses, close the dikes". The show's host Johan Bodegraven became a national hero.

Is it unique for a huge fundraising action to take over national media? Surely not. But it is unique for the Dutch broadcasters, who take their job seriously, both in terms of commerce, content and competition, to rise above the daily rivalry when disaster strikes. And for one day, nobody objects when the media empty the public's pockets with a smile, because it's for a good cause.

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Radio 555 programmes also go out on the web, satellite and on Radio Netherlands' shortwave frequencies 5955 and 9895 kHz, and nationally on 1296 kHz.

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This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011 Dutch government’s decided to cut funding and shift RNW in 2013 from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW’s current activities can be found at http://www.rnw.org/about-rnw