Irene Costera Meijer and Tim Groot Kormelink
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
The Netherlands are characterised by relatively high levels of trust in news and little concern about ‘fake news’. High trust figures might be due to a media landscape in which strong public service media set the quality standard for commercial news brands.
In terms of news industry developments, Flemish newspaper publishing and broadcast media company Mediahuis won a takeover battle with John de Mol (Talpa) over TMG (Telegraaf Media Groep), one of the country’s largest media companies that includes the most popular Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. De Mol in turn bought the Netherlands’ largest news agency ANP. Former weekly, now monthly magazine Vrij Nederland launched a new online subscription model under the motto ‘Read less, read better’, delivering one story (in article, video, or podcast form) per day via WhatsApp or email (€6.99 per month). In terms of paying for news, print circulation (-5%) continued to decline in 2017, but digital circulation increased by almost 20%.1
The most remarkable change in our data this year is the large increase in trust in news media of 8 percentage points, compared to an average of +1% across all countries. The Netherlands (59%) now rank third in terms of trust in media, behind only Finland (62%) and Portugal (62%). Public news organisation NOS Nieuws, whose 8pm bulletin continues to attract around 2m viewers every night, is the most trusted news brand. Perhaps surprisingly, its commercial counterpart RTL Nieuws ranks second for trust. This aligns with our (2017) observation that television is a key driver of trust, due in part to news consumers’ idea that ‘seeing is believing’.2 Following closely are commercial digital-born player Nu.nl and the major Dutch quality newspapers. The relatively high trust in commercial news organisations might be explained by Stephen Cushion’s (2012)3 argument that if public news media set the quality standard, commercial news organisations have to follow if they want their news to be consumed. Quality newspapers, TV news, and radio news in the Netherlands score high on trust, in particular among their users. After NOS Nieuws, newspapers NRC and Het Financieele Dagblad (fd) are most trusted by their own users. Another interesting difference between Nu.nl and the other commercial news organisations mentioned is that actual use (rather than awareness or brand reputation) of the latter results in a larger increase in trust.
Membership-based online news platform De Correspondent, which now has 60,000 paying members, hopes to launch an international counterpart (The Correspondent) in 2018. The platform is also building a ‘rolodex’ to be able to tap into its members’ expertise more systematically. The position of Conversation Editor was created to help mediate between members and correspondents, and to make their comment section more diverse by inviting under-represented groups (e.g. refugees) to share their experiences. Pay-per-article platform Blendle saw several news organisations pull out (NRC) or limit their services (De Telegraaf, De Persgroep). De Persgroep launched a similar initiative, Topics, reaching 475,000 people in its first month.4 Blendle continues to be loss-making and dependent on capital injections to stay afloat, but its founder and CEO expects little difficulty securing additional investors.5
In line with the high trust figures, the Netherlands score lowest in concern about online ‘fake news’: 30% compared to an average of 54%. Discussions about fake news seem to centre less around news produced by professional news organisations, instead focusing on social media, foreign actors (e.g. Russia), and politicians. For instance, new US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra caused controversy over his claims (caught on tape) regarding the existence of ‘no-go zones’ and politicians being burned in the Netherlands. Before eventually apologising, he initially dismissed reports of his claims as ‘fake news’. Although Dutch news organisations themselves face little concern about fake news, they do take the phenomenon seriously. On 5 March 2018, public news organisation NOS broadcast the 86-minute live event ‘News or Nonsense‘.6
In an effort to tackle fake news, Facebook started a collaboration with Nu.nl and Nieuwscheckers, a fact-checking initiative from Leiden University. In November 2017, they were recognised as fact-checking organisations by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). In February 2018, several Dutch news organisations and an individual journalist filed summary proceedings against the European Commission regarding accusations of fake news by EU fake news watchdog EU vs. Disinfo. The lawsuit was dropped after the latter withdrew its accusations.
Online and television remain the two most important news sources in the Netherlands, though TV news has fallen 7 percentage points in four years. Social media news use has been in gentle decline since 2016.
Trust in news shows a remarkable increase of 8 percentage points. Although fake news is a hot topic, discussions centre more around social media, foreign actors, and politicians than around news produced by professional news organisations.
- https://www.svdj.nl/de-stand-van-de-nieuwsmedia/papier/oplage-telegraaf-ad-klappen/; https://www.svdj.nl/de-stand-van-de-nieuwsmedia/digitale-oplage-kranten-stijgen ↩
- Nic Newman and Richard Fletcher, Bias, Bullshit and Lies: Audience Perspectives on Low Trust in the Media. Oxford: RISJ, 2017. ↩
- Stephen Cushion, The Democratic Value of News: Why Public Service Media Matter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ↩
- http://www.gfk.com/nl/insights/press-release/gfk-dam-mei-2017-stormachtige-start-topics ↩
- http://www.quotenet.nl/Nieuws/Verlies-Blendle-toegenomen-voortbestaan-onzeker-zonder-nieuwe-investering-in-2018-208712 ↩
- https://www.npo.nl/nieuws-of-nonsens/05-03-2018/POW_03787753? ↩