The Dutch cabinet has announced plans to cut back the activities of Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The Dutch world service will no longer provide information for Dutch people living abroad, or provide the rest of the world with a realistic image of the Netherlands.
Instead, Radio Netherlands Worldwide is to concern itself solely with providing information in countries where free speech is suppressed or threatened.
During his press conference after the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Mark Rutte praised the work Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) has done.
"Radio Netherlands Worldwide will limit itself to one role, promoting free speech. I think the other tasks RNW performs are nice, valuable, but not enough to finance them with public money."
The cuts to RNW are part of a widespread austerity programme the current centre-right government is implementing to bring the national budget into balance. In the wake of cuts to higher education, the arts and defence, the government today announced a reorganisation of the entire public broadcasting system.
RNW is not alone
Cuts at other world service broadcasters:
- BBC World Service: Scrapping 25% of their jobs. Dropping five of their 32 languages.
- Radio France International: Cut 25% of their employees, and dropped to 11 languages (down from 17)
- Deutsche Welle: Phasing out short and medium wave broadcasting, and reducing programming for Germans abroad
- Voice of America: Scaling back Chinese broadcasts
- Radio Australia: Shifting its output to internet
As part of that reorganisation Radio Netherlands Worldwide will no longer fall under the media budget, but become the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry. That move is scheduled to take place on 1 January 2013.
Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal confirmed the narrower focus - including press freedom - for the Dutch international service:
"Radio Netherlands Worldwide will concern itself with free speech under Foreign Affairs starting in 2013. I will not say anything else about it right now."
Mr Rosenthal explained that, since RNW will remain part of the media budget next year, he does not want to step on his fellow minister’s toes, referring to Media Minister Marja van Bijsterveld.
The financial details of these changes to Radio Netherlands Worldwide are not yet clear. The lower house of parliament is due to debate the cuts to RNW in two weeks. Parliament must still approve the cabinet’s planned cuts. The debate is scheduled for 27 June.
In reaction to the news from The Hague, former foreign minister Bernard Bot, chairman of the RNW supervisory board, said: "I find this cabinet decision incomprehensible for a government whose foreign policy should serve the long-term interests of the Netherlands and the Dutch."
RNW Director-General Jan Hoek echoed the feelings of Mr Bot: "This is an incomprehensible and sad decision. The ministry has chosen the easy way out by passing one quarter of the cuts in public broadcasting (two hundred million euros) in its entirety to one organisation - RNW."
RNW Editor-in-Chief Rik Rensen said: "Our country is known as an important and reliable trading nation. Radio Netherlands Worldwide makes a unique contribution in ten languages, 24 hours a day. For tens of millions of people around the world, RNW is an important source of information and a journalistic calling card for the Netherlands. Is our country really going back behind the dikes?"