The 15th of March marks the day of the election in the Netherlands. The Dutch media is burning up with analyses of who wants to collaborate with whom, who said what about which minority and who is in favour of Nexit and not. At the same time international media are sharpening their pencils and directing their focus on this tiny country. Is there any discrepancy in how international media reports on the upcoming elections when you compare it to the local news? Let’s talk about Nexit, Wilders and the international focus on the Netherlands.
Many of the international students of our faculty might be a bit confused about the situation. What’s the vote about? Who is that guy with the hairdo? Let’s start with a brief reality check. Formally speaking, the Netherlands is a monarchy (you’ll be grateful of this once you experience your first Kingsday). However, the King has no power and the country is governed by a cabinet of ministers, a House of Representatives with 150 seats and a senate with 75 seats. The main players portrayed in Dutch media are Mark Rutte, who leads the VVD ,People’s party of Freedom and Democracy, Lodewijk Ascher, leader of the PvdA ,Labour Party and Geert Wilders (weird hairdo, leads the right wing populist Party for Freedom). The fuzz is mostly about who is going to collaborate with whom (no-one wants to collaborate with Wilders) and who said something offensive about Moroccans (both Rutte who stated that everyone who does not agree with Dutch culture could “sod-off” and Wilders who recently spoke about “Moroccan scum”). In 2012, the VVD was the largest party, a position which is now most probably held by the PVV. The ice cold right wing populist winds are blowing across the mild tempered Netherlands, showing the same trends as the rest of the western world. Just have a look at Marine le Pen in France, Nigel Farrage in the UK and Mr. Populist himself, Donald Trump in the US. What is fascinating is that this tiny country, only a fragment of the US population and size, is gaining so much attention in international media.
In 9 cases out of 10, the reports are about xenophobia, the offensive statements about Moroccans and Geert Wilders.
Take my home country, Sweden, as an example. A quick search, typing in “the Netherlands” in the two most prominent broadsheet papers DN and SvD leads to a myriad of results. In 9 cases out of 10, the reports are about xenophobia, the offensive statements about Moroccans and Geert Wilders. If the Dutch media portrays Nexit as one of many important issues, the Swedish media portrays it as the only relevant issue. When reading Swedish media you are left with the impression that the upcoming election is about remaining or staying within the European Union. Rutte, the actual prime minister is only mentioned in an article which reported on his controversial “sod-off” comment whereas the many twists and turns around Wilders are covered extensively.
The same pattern is found in the New York Times, where the many escapades of Wilders are scrutinized with the same attention. What is interesting is that the articles about his statements about Moroccan scum and his conviction for discrimination quickly lead you to articles about Marine Le Pen. Maybe this is what is most fascinating about the international news coverage on the Dutch election. The Netherlands fits 237 times in the US, the Dutch population of 17 million is not even a third of the population of France and the Dutch GDP (840 billion USD) is only a fraction of the German (3860 billion USD), yet the upcoming election is treated as a major international event. The Netherlands has become one of the big players, regardless of its modest size, population and previous political importance.
What becomes evident is that the international media might not be really interested in what is going on in the Netherlands. To be honest, nobody cares about the care of the Dutch elderly, the health insurance system or the financing of Universities. What matters are fast, sensationalist clicks and quotes. Regardless if the goal is to scare or to inform, the effects are the same; the rest of the world believes that the Netherlands is governed by a crazy, rabid, extremely blond populist and that we’re leaving the European Union. To expose problematic political behaviour is an important aspect of journalism, but when it becomes the only aspect it might mislead the audience. The election takes place the 15th of March. If you are Dutch, show your opposition against xenophobia and hate by using your vote. Show the world that Dutch politicians might be a bit crazy, but that the Dutch population is as open and caring as I, being an international student, experienced you during my first weeks in Amsterdam.