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Guidelines of the netherlands press council

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The core task of the Netherlands Press Council is to provide a framework for self-regulation: when and why is journalism prudent and when not?

The Council works on the basis of the Guidelines which describe which requirements journalism must meet and as such clarify to all - both inside and outside of the profession - what can be expected of proper journalists and proper journalism.

Media plays an extremely important role in our society, in many different ways and on a great many platforms. They monitor authorities and organisations, institutions and businesses. They play an important role in the democratic process in our society. They offer ample room for proper, sound and independent journalistic work in all its manifestations and in all places. This is how the people they work for - the public, in the broadest sense of the work - are served in the best possible way. Proper journalism can only be performed in full freedom and independently. The freedom of the press is vital. This important role comes with obligations and responsibilities. Journalism that demands full freedom is at the same time transparent about its approach and choices. It brings up own conduct and expressions for discussion, thereby building up trust and creating reinforcing effect. Proper journalism is truthful and meticulous, impartial and fair, verifiable and integer and ethical. It allows itself to be inspected and is transparent when handling comments, responses and complaints. Self-regulation is the most effective way of providing a framework for and give substance to this and accepting that responsibility. The Netherlands Press Council is the expression and instrument of that self-regulation. The Council assesses whether and to what extent journalism has been prudent, within the ethics of the profession. It handles complaints about journalistic conduct.[^1]

The departure point of the Guidelines is that anyone engaged in journalism must take responsibilities for the information he or she distributes and the manner in which he or she operates. This is irrespective of the medium in or the platform on which this is done. The media landscape is highly dynamic and will undoubtedly continue to be so; new initiatives are created in the digital world and outside thereof. The journalistic principles and departure points have a power of expression and force of application in every medium and on every platform.

The Council assumes that all journalistic organisations and all journalists recognise, acknowledge and accept the departure points formulated here. The Council invites everyone else engaged in journalism to adopt the Guidelines as departure point.

The assessment of complaints is the main task of the Council. The main objective is to contribute to the continued rise in quality of journalism in the Netherlands in an open and transparent manner.

The Netherlands Press Council is independent in its work and opinion forming.

In their structure, the Guidelines follow the usual course of events for a journalistic product: from initial selection to, ultimately, publication [^2] and archiving - open and transparent in all steps taken during that course.

* This standard can be justifiably departed from in the event of a clear case of malpractice and this is needed to investigate the matter.

A. Departure points

Journalists report truthfully, verifiably and as completely as possible. They avoid one-sided and biased reporting.

Journalists carry out their work independently and avoid (the appearance of) conflicts of interest.

Journalists are free in their choice of what they publish. They weigh the interest of publication against the interests that could be harmed by publication.

Journalists take into account the particular vulnerability of certain groups, such as children (minors) and people with intellectual disabilities.

B. Preparation/Gathering news

B.1 Journalistic approach

Journalists must introduce themselves to potential discussion partners in their capacity as journalists and be clear to them about their journalist intentions. They also do that when accessing non-public areas. *

Journalists do not abuse their position and refrain from inciting incidents with the intention of creating news.

If journalists want to interview someone, they must inform him or her of the nature of the publication, thereby enabling the interviewee to make an informed decision as to whether he or she wants to cooperate with that publication.

Journalists are free to record telephone conversations without notifying their discussion partner thereof. If they, in the interest of their publication, deem it necessary to partly or fully transmit a recorded telephone conversation, they must notify their discussion partner thereof, prior to publication. *

Working with hidden cameras and microphones or with rolling cameras and active microphones is permitted if required in order to investigate malpractices.

B.2 Sources

In principle, sources are referred to in the publications.

Journalists must protect the identity of sources to whom they have promised confidentiality, and of sources with regard to whom they knew or could have known that they have given them information on the assumption that they would not disclose their identities.

Journalists do not pay witnesses and informers; a reasonable reimbursement of expenses can be acceptable.

Journalists do not steal information, nor will they pay for stolen information. *

B.3 Hearing both sides

Journalists must hear those who are disqualified as a result of a publication, even if their role is marginal. Those who are accused must be given ample opportunity to respond to the accusations, preferably in the same publication. Note that hearing both sides does not relieve journalists from their duty to report as truthfully as possible.

The principle of hearing both sides does not apply to publications which seem to contain a personal opinion (e.g. columns, reviews and opinion contributions) and reports of a factual nature, such as reports of public meetings.

B.4 Agreements

A journalist who accepts an embargo request must comply with the agreement until the agreed term has expired. The embargo is lifted if the information provided under the embargo is published in a different medium, or the person who requested the embargo has lifted it prematurely or fails to comply with the agreements made.

Journalists who give the subject of the article the opportunity to inspect the article in advance - in order to correct factual misstatements and remove any lack of clarity - are free to decide how to incorporate comments in the article.

C. Publication

In their publications, journalists must make a clear distinction between facts, allegations and opinions.

Columnists, cartoonists and reviewers are free to express their opinions on events and persons.

Stylistic tools such as exaggeration and deliberate one-sidedness are permitted.

Publications only state the ethnic origins, nationality, race, religion and sexual inclination of groups and persons if deemed required for a proper comprehension of the facts and circumstances that are reported on.

Accusations are only published subject to a proper investigation to establish whether there is a sound basis, certainly so if these accusations are expressed by persons who are in conflict with the accused or who are otherwise affected.

Quotes from interviews may not be used in a context other than can be expected by the interviewee, with a view to what he has been notified of by the journalist. The interviewee must again be asked for his permission to his statements being published, if in the course of the editorial process the nature or content of a publication has changed to the extent that it no longer meets his reasonable expectations.

Journalists who in their publications link to information of third parties need to consider whether the interest served by including a (hyper)link in the publication is in reasonable proportion to the interests that are potentially damaged as a result thereof.

Visual material may not be used by way of illustration in a subject or context other than for which the photographic evidence or footage was made, unless it is clarified why the visual material was used.

Image manipulations may not be misleading. The reader and viewer must be made aware of anything that causes an obvious change to the image.

C.1 Privacy

A publication must not infringe the privacy of persons any more than is reasonably required within the framework of the report. An intrusion of privacy would be imprudent if not in reasonable proportion to the social interest of the publication.

Public figures must accept a certain degree of exposure to unwanted publicity. In their private surroundings, they too have the right to privacy, unless their conduct in their private lives demonstrably affects their public performance.

Journalists must refrain from publishing pictures and broadcasting images of persons in generally non-public areas without their permission, or using letters and personal notes without the permission from those involved. *

Journalists must refrain from bothering, persistently following or tailing persons for prolonged periods of time.

Journalists must prevent information or images from being published as a result of which suspects and convicted persons can be easily identified and traced by the public at large. Journalists are not obliged to observe this rule if the name forms a vital part of the report, if omission of the name on account of the general reputation of the person involved does not serve any purpose, if omission of the name can cause confusion with others who can be expected to be harmed as a result of that, if the name is mentioned within the framework of issuing appeals or if the person involved goes public him or herself.

Publications on serious offences must omit any details of the offence if they are expected to add suffering to the victim or his or her immediate family and if they are not needed to demonstrate the nature and gravity of the offence or the consequences thereof. When approaching the casualties of accidents and disasters and their next of kin, journalists should make allowance for the right of those involved to be left alone. Journalists must act reservedly if the defencelessness or mental state of those involved gives rise to that.

D. Accountability/In retrospect

The editorial office is responsible for publishing letters and responses received on the website of the medium involved.

It is preferred that the editorial office publish the terms and conditions for selection and publication of responses.

The editorial office is free to decide against publishing letters and responses received or to add a postscript to them, unless publication has been promised. Changes and deletions are permitted, as long as the essence and composition are maintained. If the editorial office decides to publish, the period between submission and publication of the response must not exceed the sender's reasonable expectations.

Before the editorial office decides to publish a response that contains a serious allegation, they must verify whether the allegation has a sound basis. The accused must also be given the opportunity to tell his side of the story.

It cannot be expected that all responses are moderated and possibly removed in advance. The editorial office can decide though to remove any responses that have been published. If a response contains a serious accusation or an offensive remark aimed at individuals, the editorial office, on the request of the person(s) involved, must investigate whether there are actual grounds for the accusation or allegation and, if there is not, remove the response.

If journalists are requested to anonymize archived articles or to remove these, then in exceptional cases only will they allow for the public interest of archives of the highest level of completeness and reliability to be outweighed by the private interests of those who make the request.

If it appears that a publication contains misstatements or imputably incomplete, journalists must rectify this appropriately and as soon as possible.


The Guidelines of the Netherlands Press Council were adopted by its members in April 2007 and amended in April 2008, September 2010, May 2015, June 2018 and December 2019.

[^1]: Journalistic conduct is taken to mean: an act or omission by a journalist in the course of his profession or an act or omission within the framework of journalistic activities by someone other than a journalist who regularly and against payment contributes to the editorial content of publicity media (see Section 4 of the Articles of Association). [^2]: Publication is taken to mean: each form of communication, such as an article, transmission or Twitter message, within the framework of journalistic conduct.