Journalist Hofland wins top literary prize

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Veteran journalist Henk Hofland (83) has won the P.C. Hooftprijs 2011, Holland's most prestigious literary prize, which comes with a 60,000 euro cash award. The distinction has rarely been given to someone who is primarily a journalist.

In its report, the jury praises the journalist, commentator, essayist and columnist for his effortless style, unflagging ethos and balanced views. "No one in this country has over the past sixty years sounded its social developments with so much vigilance and impartiality, with so much sprezzatura as well as persistence and continuity, evidence of an iron discipline." His columns and essays have been collected in some 30 books. He has also published several novels and short stories.

Happy pessimist
Hofland won the Audax columnists prize in 1992 and the Golden Quill in 1996. In 1999, his colleagues chose him as the Journalist of the Century. The award ceremony for the P.C. Hooftprijs 2011 will be held on 19 May, two days before the anniversary of the death of the seventeenth-century writer after whom the prize is named.

Hofland has described himself as a "happy pessimist". A frequent New York resident, in his columns, he often voices exasperation at modern phenomena such as advertising, linguistic deterioration, free market ideology and growing car ownership. Even so, he cheerfully looks forward to each new day.

Truth seekers
One of his guiding principles is distrust, a legacy, he once said, of his youth in Rotterdam. "I very much like the animal habit of giving fellow creatures a thorough sniff before throwing my lot in with them", he said in an interview with daily NRC Handelsblad on the occasion of this 80th birthday.

As truth-seekers, journalists, he emphasised, should be respected as much as feared. In one his books, tellingly entitled Taking up paving stones, he tried to get to the bottom of a number of scandals the Dutch authorities tried to hush up.

In 1962, he became deputy editor in chief of the Algemeen Handelsbald, and six years later, its editor in chief. In 1972, two years after the Algemeen Handelsblad had merged with the NRC, becoming the NRC Handelsblad, he resigned his post, but continues to publish articles, essays and reports for it.

Using the name of S. Montag, a pseudonym he took from a British banking house, he writes musings not centred on current affairs but on everyday aspects of life. He was also involved in a number of television documentaries.

Freedom of expression
In a lecture he gave in 1988, Hofland warned of forces threatening freedom of speech. To counter such threats, he launched a plea to remain vigilant towards specialised professionals such as spokespersons, advertising agents and public relations managers who have their own interests and sometimes don't tell the truth. Another serious threat to freedom of expression, in his view, is the "voracious" free market.

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