“We found it in 3 minutes” Arjen Lubach told his viewers in his weekly satirical show Zondag met Lubach, the Dutch equivalent/spin-off of the Daily show with Trevor Noah. He referred to the non-disclosed website that Dutch minister of internal affairs Kajsa Ollongren had used as an example of Russian manipulation and interference in the Netherlands. Following warnings from several foreign affairs ministers in the European Union on (online) political interference by Russia, Dutch minister Ollongren had submitted a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives raising awareness for and warning them of the possibilities of ‘fake news’ influence and manipulation from abroad, specifically from Russia, within the Netherlands. As a course of action, minister Ollongren wanted to discuss possibilities to combat such interference and manipulation with companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Not the least surprising, the Dutch news was all over it. Even talk shows (among them Pauw and De Wereld Draait Door) invited ‘experts’ on Russia to discuss the matter extensively: What was the website? Why did the minister only provide one example? Did the website even exist? Was this truly an issue for the Netherlands?
The influence of ‘fake news’ has massively increased over the past two years, and it seems like a topic we should be aware off – also in the Netherlands. In my perception, this is all minister Ollongren was trying to convey. Of course, it may trigger questions such as ‘has it already happened? Or are there any examples? And if so, what are these examples? Or is this a pressing issue in the Netherlands.’ Questions a minister can and should respond to. However, if then, the news and numerous talk shows dramatise the words of the minister, making a big deal out of something that was initially meant as a warning, and therefore demand answers that she may have very good reason not to disclose or simply does not have, they undermine the work of the minister. Instead of discussing the topic as it is, they almost ridicule a minister and misinform the public who may become emotional for no good reason. Even a satirical show as Zondag met Lubach has enormous influence and may sway public opinion.
The importance of Radio and Television (RTV) monitoring for the government and ministries has never been so evident. News media and talk shows exist to discuss relevant topics and, politically, pose a control on the government, but it does not serve to undermine it. One can easily ask critical questions without having to generate a fuss or create a story that does not exist – unfortunately, this approach does seem to appeal and generate revenue nowadays. Not only government acts should be controlled and critically looked at, but also the way the media outlets – that occasionally seem to forget how much influence they have over the public – handles such government acts. Ministries should be able to react to mistakes and inconsistencies in different (news) stories. This is exactly what RTV monitoring facilitates. Having a clear overview of when and in what programs specific ministers or topics were mentioned will assist ministries in handling certain situations or stories in the media. By keeping track of their visibility on radio and television, ministries are enabled to put out (unnecessary) fires and issue a response when necessary. For example, if the ministry of internal affairs so pleases, they could issue a statement saying that the website that was found by ‘Zondag met Lubach’ is not actually the website the minister was referring to in her letter to the Dutch House of Representatives.