Saturday, June 22, 2013

VPRO International - A public international programme service. But for how long?

RNW's purpose built broadcast centre has now been gutted as part of an asbestos removal program
Its coming up to a year since Radio Netherlands closed it's English language radio service. The Dutch government said in June 2011 that it had other ways of getting the story of what's happening here to the outside world. And cut the budget by 70%. Frankly, although shortwave radio should have been replaced by video much faster than it was, the Dutch government hasn't really succeeded in its aims to fill the gaps.

Thanks But No Thanks.

Prime Minister Rutte in June 2011
In a press conference on Friday 17th June 2011, Prime Minister Rutte basically thanked Radio Netherlands for their efforts so far, but concluded that national image building abroad and calamity services are being done by others already. This form of public-financed publicity is a luxury the Netherlands could no longer afford, partly because it’s so difficult to independently measure its effectiveness. Actually, that's not true.

The challenge facing the Dutch is that no major foreign news network has bureau in either Amsterdam or The Hague. The freelancers and stringers who work for Al Jazeera, BBC, AFP, Russia Today, etc cover the affairs of the International Criminal Court . But they hardly ever cover Dutch political, social and scientific news. I note some BBC programmes like Click! pop over to The Netherlands for a whistle-stop item collection tour and then head back to London asap.

So it's great to discover a little known channel on YouTube, set up by the domestic public broadcaster VPRO, and specifically it's program sequence called BackLight. These are hour-long investigative documentaries which have been narrated and subtitled in English to make them more accessible to an international audience. Ostensibly the versioning has been done to assist sales of these programmes at the International MIP-TV fair in Cannes. But by putting them up on YouTube, they make them directly accessible to the public. 

There are 42 videos posted on the VPRO YouTube channel. Each one is about 50 minutes long, and they are excellent quality. Amongst my favourites are a documentary on Cleantech investments....

and a very topical documentary on Tax evasion by international companies - and the Dutch connection to it all. 

This program, called the Tax Free Tour, also spawned a separate website project called which we've covered on this blog before

Excellent stuff. Wish there was more. But I fear that as a new round of cutbacks hit the Dutch domestic public broadcasters, this service may disappear. VPRO announced on June 3rd  that it was closing its science unit completely, scrapping 81 full time jobs across the company. I have only really associated VPRO with scientific journalism. 

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