The Media and its Power
15 november 2023 | Brent Hadderingh
On 22 November, the Netherlands will head to the polls for a national election. It is no surprise, then, that these weeks are some of the most important of the year for political parties. The same goes for journalists and other figures in the media. They have set up a plethora of debates, interviews, panels and other events to inform the Dutch public. Now, it is not news to anybody on the dissident right-wing anywhere in the world that the media holds a lot of power to shape opinion. But it remains useful to illustrate how prevalent and how insidious this power can be. Using some examples from the problems Forum for Democracy faced in this election season, we will illustrate how the media can and does cripple political movements, as a warning and a reminder.
The first and perhaps simplest way to hamstring any movement is to not give it the time of day. This is what the Dutch media has been doing to FVD. For over a year, FVD has not been granted any form of podium by the mainstream media. From newspapers to TV-shows, we have simply not been invited anywhere. There has been quite literal radio silence; no interviews, no panel shows, nothing at all. This goes for both the Dutch public broadcaster and private news organisations.
Only a small and select number of dissident media channels gave FVD airtime to present its ideas and political solutions to the many problems that face our country. This, of course, forced FVD to alter its media strategy. We now wage our political campaign almost exclusively online, on social media. Tik-Tok, X, Facebook and Instagram are our tools of trade. On the one hand, we are convinced there is an untapped market of potential voters to be found through these channels; on the other, we have little choice. Mainstream media channels are simply not open to us.
To illustrate: the private RTL media network set up a large debate including the leaders of the parties that were polling highest at the time, including the Liberals, the Farmers’ Movement and the Social Liberals. However, two party leaders cancelled beforehand, creating space for two new parties to jump in. Which parties did they pick? The Christian Democrats and the Animal Rights party, both of which were consistently polling lower than FVD. FVD was not even approached. Why? Because the media gets to decide which voices the public gets to hear, and they do not want our voice to be heard.
In the runup to the 2023 general elections, the Dutch public broadcaster decided to alter its unwritten “silent treatment” policy slightly. It did invite party leader Thierry Baudet to a one-on-one debate with the leader of the Social Liberal party. We can only guess as to their reasoning, but perhaps they figured it would be too overt to ignore a party completely in the runup to national elections – a party which is actually polling higher than some other smaller parties they had already invited.
Baudet and his opponent were sat down in front of a panel of six young people, three men and three women. One of these men turned out to be gay, and questioned Baudet on his supposed “homophobia”; one turned out to be “non-binary” and accused Baudet of creating a climate of hate and violence; and the last man just happened to Ukrainian, and questioned FVD’s neutrality in the Russo-Ukraine conflict.
Of course, Baudet’s opponent was not faced with any similar criticism. The worst he got were some comments that his political solutions were not strong enough, that he wasn’t trying hard enough. We can only assume this disparity in the panel arose completely by accident. We would not suggest that the public broadcaster, the one that is funded completely by Dutch taxpayers, stacked the panel in favour of one political party. We could never suggest such a thing.
But let us imagine that they did - purely hypothetically, of course - it would illustrate perfectly a form of power held by the media. The power of the norm. By carefully selecting the questions they ask, by selecting the members of a panel that question and criticise a politician, they can set the norm. And by extension, they decide what is to be seen as aberrant. Just by the way the panel is constructed and the question is asked, the “non-binary” man is no longer an aberration, but instead simply normal. And anyone questioning the veracity of his “identity” is suddenly the weirdo. Worse, they are portrayed as actively endangering the other man’s safety by not “accepting” his identity.
At least in this last case, the media’s attempt at a trap seems to have backfired. The interaction between Baudet and the “non-binary” man has gone viral, being shared all over social media, with many people taking Baudet’s side. Their attempt to present radical “gender diversity” as the standing norm may have been a slight overstep. We can only guess what impact this may have on the eventual outcome of the elections.