Photo: Jens Anders Wejsmark Sorensen

In the NUJ, we have a long tradition of fighting racism, promoting equality, and striving to avoid bias in our reporting. Our union’s code of conduct states we should not produce material, “likely to lead to hatred or discrimination” on the grounds of, among other things, “a person’s race, colour or creed”.

It is worth reminding ourselves of these principles when faced with the tricky professional task of reporting fairly on the annual Dutch and Belgian festivities based around Sinterklaas. These are problematic for many as they include Sint’s helper, “Zwarte Piet” who is often portrayed by men and women in black face.

While many still view this as an innocent part of popular folklore, it is being increasingly seen as a racist caricature of black people, out of tune with modern values.

We, in the media, are privileged to report this shift in public attitudes. But it is a challenge too, with feelings running so high. Some media reports appear to give the traditionalists the benefit of the doubt, while unfairly labelling those opposing Zwarte Piet as extremists. As journalists, we should report the facts accurately, respecting fair views honestly held, and reasonably put, while not encouraging discrimination on the grounds of race or colour.

The Netherlands and Belgium, like many Western European countries, are slowly changing and we, NUJ journalists, should adhere to our Code of Conduct when reporting that change.

Netherlands NUJ branch chair, Tony Sheldon

See also the motion from the National Executive Council

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