Sometimes the penitential sermon roars from the worn pulpit: journalists would just throw everything online that comes to their notice because of the clicks, extinguished with the macho motto publish and be damned.
The reality is – fortunately – a lot more nuanced. This was again apparent from the report that five (!) media, including NRC, had kept to themselves for months that a cousin of Ridouan Taghi, suspected of multiple murder, had often visited him in prison. That fact only made headlines when the nephew was arrested at the beginning of the month.
The news about that arrest stated that after the murder of Peter R. de Vries, NRC had received ‘information’ about the ‘frequent’ visit of Taghi’s nephew, but had not published it, like four other daily newspapers, because the Public Prosecution Service had nothing about it. wanted to say.
That, of course, raises all sorts of questions. But even before I could dip my pen in ombuds ink, the issue was covered in the paper itself. In an illuminating piece on crime journalism, all considerations were discussed. Parool journalist Paul Vugts also put in a column in that newspaper his motives diverge.
In short: from a journalistic point of view, the mere fact was too insignificant: the visit was allowed, and what was discussed was unknown. What’s the story then? Without further facts, this would at most suggest an unproven connection with the murder of De Vries.
Publication could also hinder the judicial investigation. The media are not an extension of the judiciary, no – but that does not mean that the opposite is true and that you should never have to consider investigative interests. The danger is of course that you lose control. But it was already here at the Public Prosecution Service that investigated the nephew, but kept silent.
And then the last argument: the naked fear that, so soon after the shocking murder of De Vries, other crime journalists would also be in danger. No wonder, this is about organized crime that will stop at nothing. In that case, it may be desirable to bring news together, or in consultation with the Public Prosecution Service.
All legitimate considerations, however you feel about the outcome – although four months is exceptionally long. This remains a consideration on a case-by-case basis, with the public interest as the criterion. For example, it would have been different, say the NRC journalists I spoke to, if the Public Prosecution Service had not been informed or had not taken any steps.
Still a dot on the i. What that Saturday piece did not mention is that of course there was something to the long silence of the five media. Namely the promise that they would be the first to be informed as soon as the judiciary wanted to come out with concrete information. When the time came, the involved media in Amsterdam were updated. The press release of the arrest went out three hours later. That also gave NRC just enough head start to make a bigger story.
There was also other, more light-hearted uproar on the press and police fronts. During protests in The Hague, a reporter from the Volkskrant and a duo from Algemeen Dagblad, including former editor-in-chief Hans Nijenhuis, were arrested. Both dailies released their reporter, once released, detailed report to do of the experience.
In NRC (which was not at the front) a spokesman for the Hague police defended the arrests in an interview. Journalists, he said, have “duties too.” A true word.
Only, that piece could have used a dot on one ‘í’. Because the interview started with criticism of Nijenhuis, who, according to the police spokesman, had been “shopping” in the facts. He had “not had a press card” with him when he was arrested, as the AD claimed, but only “a business card”.
Poe say – that’s très James Bond! Ice cold handing over your business card while standing with your legs spread apart against a blue bus.
But what exactly was it: a public transport pass, a card made of handmade paper with calligraphed letters (Nijenhuis’ journalistic cradle was after all at the ‘elitist’ NRC Handelsblad)? In the interview, the spokesperson points out the difference between a “media press card” and a “police press card”, which you must request and display. He showed the interviewer a photo of the arrest to prove his point – but then again, the reader isn’t watching. The AD reporter did not speak.
So I called Nijenhuis and indeed, he says: because as a former editor-in-chief he has only just returned to work in the field (Nijenhuis retired this summer), he did not yet have a police press card. He therefore showed his AD press card with photo, stamp and signature of his successor. On the other hand: the photographer of the AD, who did have a police press card, was also arrested. He’s just saying, it wouldn’t have mattered much.
It’s a detail, but his reaction could have been better.
Although, maybe I’m going on too long now. Because columnist and chief Media Karel Smouter was already surprised that day about the “number of newspaper columns” about the arrest of the three. He could “imagine something” in the police response that journalists also have duties.
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Me too – but wait, whose interview Smouter quoted in agreement? Yes, from himself. Because while columnist Smouter was amazed at the many columns, reporter Smouter added three more.
Perhaps it is better to keep those roles separate. Explaining journalistic considerations, as in the Taghi case, is a great asset. But separating facts and opinions is so too.
Sjoerd de Jong
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The reader writes … They have not been ‘arrested’
In NRC Handelsblad I read that three boys in The Hague were ‘arrested’ after a fatal incident with a tram. These guys have reported to the police, to their credit. It would have been nice if it had been in the headline like that, instead of the horny “caught up.”
… the newspaper answers But then still ‘arrested’
According to the final editors – and a few dictionaries – ‘arrested’ and ‘arrested’ are almost synonymous in this context: it concerns the formal act of arresting, or ‘arresting’. And yes, ‘caught up’ simply fits better in a short headline.
Yet there is the difference in emotional value that the reader points out. With ‘picking up’ (which after all can also mean ‘grabbing and lifting’) you rather think that the police has gone to fetch someone, or has started to lift someone from his bed, than that he has come to bring himself. Incidentally, the message clearly stated that the three had turned themselves in – after which they were arrested.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on October 23, 2021 A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of October 23, 2021