The National Union of Journalists has a long tradition of fighting racism, promoting equality, and striving to avoid bias in their reporting.

Tony Sheldon, NUJ Netherlands branch chair has written a comment piece on the issue - you can read it on the NUJ website

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

According to a press release, the NUJ's national executive council on Friday 8 November welcomed the Netherlands landmark ruling that sets a 50 per cent pay increase for media workers.

The freelance photojournalists Britt van Uem (Tubantia) and Ruud Rogier (Brabants Dagblad) won their case on 1 November in a lawsuit against DPG Media (formerly De Persgroep).

The court ruled that the rates they received for their work, respectively 13 cents per word and 42 euros per photo, were not fair.

The judge has increased the rates by 50 per cent to 0.21 cents per word and 65 euros per photo respectively. DPG Media therefore has to pay these two freelancers extra for work they did in 2018.  

The NUJ and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have both welcomed this historical decision and congratulated the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), which in cooperation with the Dutch Association of Photojournalists (NVF) have supported the journalists in their lawsuit.  

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ president, said: 

Throughout Europe we applaud the courage and persistence of the two photojournalists and the support of the union. This decision has indeed a great importance beyond the Dutch borders. We invite media to respect fair remuneration of photojournalists throughout Europe. Professional photo are key for the quality and trust of the press, but without fair remuneration photojournalists cannot survive.

 The NVJ said it will enter into discussions with all media organisations to achieve better rates for all freelancers.
Although the rates set by the court with regard to the NVJ/NVF are an absolute bottom rather than a reasonable advisory rate for the entire market, there has definitely been a breakthrough in the market for regional and local titles in particular. 

Rosa García López, the NVJ's officer for freelance and photographers, said:

This ruling ensures that all (photo) journalists in the region have a much better starting position and can claim a right to rates that are up to 50 per cent higher than what is currently customary in large regional media companies. This makes it clear that the Copyright Contracts Act can be of value to all journalists and creative creators in the Netherlands. 

This is the first time that two freelancers have made an appeal to the Copyright Contracts Act and consequently, the first time the court gives substance to what is fair. This law states that creators such as independent (photo) journalists are entitled to fair compensations and the judge has made clear what he bases this compensation on and how he made the weighting.

According to the court, it was also relevant to take into account what journalists earn as an employee for the same work. Another circumstance that the court examined was what is customary in the market in terms of rates. 

The photojournalists in the Netherlands continue their campaign 'photojournalism has a prize' for more recognition of their profession and better rates. This verdict underlines that the rates currently paid by DPG Media to its regional freelance journalists are not fair. 

Pablo Aiquel, co-chair of the EFJ's freelance expert group, said:

This gives us even more motivation to fight for fair remuneration for photojournalists and freelancers throughout Europe. We know we cannot only rely on courts. We also need the employers to recognise that our profession has to earn its life from its work.

Campaigning by the Netherlands and Brussels branches to achieve reporting on the Zwarte Piet issue which is fair, accurate, and does not discriminate on the grounds of race or colour, has gained national support after the NUJ's National Executive Council this month supported a motion by Continental European reps Cailin Mackenzie and Tony Sheldon.

They collaborated closely with branch member Marvin Hokstam who first raised the issue, and who also sits on the union's Black Members Council.

The NEC agreed the following: "The NEC notes that the festival of Sinterklaas will soon be celebrated in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The NEC notes that the character of Zwarte Piet, who accompanies Sinterklaas, is predominantly portrayed by someone in ‘black face’, and this continues to be enjoyed by many who consider it to be an innocent tradition. 

Each year there is increased debate and controversy around Zwarte Piet, requiring journalists to cover the topic and arguments. 

The NEC reminds all those covering Zwarte Piet of the NUJ Race Reporting Guidelines which state that journalists, “should not originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of race or colour”.

The NEC supports journalists in Continental Europe in their efforts to encourage non-discriminatory reporting of Zwarte Piet and those trying to raise a discussion about his role in the Netherlands and Belgium in the 21st Century."

See also the branch statement on reporting Zwarte Piet

In what our Dutch sister union, the NVJ is calling, a historic breakthrough, two freelance journalists have been awarded a 50% pay rise by an Amsterdam court, to a rate the judges deem “reasonable”.

The two, who worked for the regional media, had refused to accept rates as low as €15 an hour, and the court applying for the first time the revised Authors’ Contract law, designed to protect freelance journalists, agreed.

The law says pay rates should be “reasonable” but this the first time a court has given an interpretation of what reasonable means.

Their employer DPG Media must now pay the reporter €0.21 a word, and the photographer €65 a photograph – approximately €25 an hour.

The NVJ is set to take up more cases. Rosa García López, secretary of the NVJ’s freelance and photographers sections said this was “an historic judgement” with “consequences for all Dutch self-employed photographers and journalists”.

You can read more about the case on the NVJ (Dutch Association of Journalists) website.