The Media Tools Used By Dutch Political Party DENK

  1. Introduction

The national discussion about race and ethnicity in the Netherlands has reached its peak. After years of unsolved discussions around the children festivity called Sinterklaas, its movement is gaining traction whether one of its key figures, Zwarte Piet, a black-faced servant of the bishop, should be abolished or at least adjusted to a persona that is tolerant to contemporary Dutch society. Not less important is the role that children of Moroccan descent in society are assumed to have as figures in low education levels that results in low future job prospects and high criminality rates top the political agendas of the least tolerant of Dutch political parties, the Party Voor de Vrijheid (PVV), or the Freedom’s Party led by Geert Wilders, who promises to campaign for “less Moroccans.” (Trouw, 2015)

The current cabinet led by two center parties, namely the Labour’s Party (PvdA) and the conservative-liberal party (VVD), in their four years, have not been able to address these societal issues to their ethnically diverse base. In the PvdA, this has brought forth the stepping out of two prominent Dutch-Turkish politicians, Selcuk Öztürk and Tunahan Kuzu. As a result, in 2015, they founded the political party DENK (which can be translated to the English demonstrative verb ‘think’). DENK positioned itself as a party promoting the interests of those who feel left out of the system as the party claims “to fight for justice and acceptance.” (DENK-Facebook, 2016)

In the wake of its founding, Dutch television and radioshow presentator Sylvana Simons joined the political movement. She is formerly known to speak out publicly against the image of Zwarte Piet as a part of the Sinterklaas festivity. After her announcement to join the political party DENK, the movement gained publicity and the news media started to report on the idea behind the campaign and its members.

The disparity between opinions, of either naming the party a far-left or far-right party, is significant. To understand the potential success this political movement will have, the race and ethnicity discussion will be treated in this paper. According to a story of social acceptance from Dutch colonial times and how social acceptance is measured in contemporary society, the first objective here is to identify how openness of a society and a decrease in cultural distance is associated with integration through endogamous relationships. The second objective is to identify the differences in news framing of persons or organizations of different ethnicity such music artists and the political party DENK. The third objective is to identify the tactics used by DENK for it to gain media attention. Recent coming outs through social media raised eyebrows. Though their tactics have come across as awkward, their message to its specific target audience could well generate unexpected results for the current political parties in the Dutch cabinet.

The thesis question hereby presents in its form a more in-depth look into what the impact will be by the media tools used by DENK. The context of a disparity between how news is framed and how the issue of race and ethnicity in Dutch society relates to its acting leaders of these parties structures a framework for DENK to transform the Dutch political landscape.

  1. Literature review

In order to understand the dynamics in Dutch society with regards to its diverse political views, the colonial history of the Netherlands will be subjected to scrutiny. The book Roofstaat by Dutch author Ewald Vanvugt tells the history of eight-hundred years of Dutch colonial times. One of the stories is about a slave born in Ivory Coast, where he was bought in 1725 at the age of eight, was named Capitein and was taken to the Netherlands by his owner later in 1728. He came to be educated in theology at the university of Leiden and published at the age of twenty-three the book with the clear title: Political Theology Research Scripture On Slavery, As Not Contradictory to Christian Freedom – in which he justified the slave trade through citations from the Bible, as was traditionally a common practice. He became popular with the slave traders and even went so far to advocate for the restoration of the slave trade in Europe (Vanvugt, 2016; p 333 – 334).

Two years later, Capitein went to work as a predicant in Elmina, Ghana, where the West Indian Compagny (WIC) head-quarters was based. Capitein, as a “colored” theorist in the Netherlands really was an exception to the rule; as in 17th and 18th century times, slaves who were formerly released eventually became to be enslaved again. This was not the case for Capitein. But also he had a glass ceiling. Capitein wished upon his arrival in Elmina to marry an African women. But even in the case of Capitein, marrying a “heathen girl” was not allowed by the WIC. Even after three years of circumventing and negotiating, his request to do so was denied. He eventually married a European girl from The Hague and they came to live in Elmina. Unfortunately, his career overseas was unsuccessful and his marriage unfortunate. He died in 1747 at the age of 30 (Vanvugt, 2016; p 334 – 336).

In Dutch contemporary society, according to the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), choosing partners is associated to cultural and social groups. Therefore, choosing partners is associated with openness as it displays the boundaries between groups in society. An increase in mixed marriages based on geographical origin or descent leads to a decrease in social and cultural distance in society (CBS, 2008).

However, according to research done by Leeuwen & Kok, current endogamous dimensions in social research do not engage the dynamic preferences between ethnicities, religion, age, income, occupation (Leeuwen & Kok, 2005). As I have experienced myself in researching this topic, the most research done in the Netherlands on endogamous relationships is those that involve immigrant families and children of non-western descent, but not much on specifically choosing an endogamous relationship by Dutch natives. This makes researching the topic of social acceptance and openness on the basis of quantified mixed relationships less empirical. Yet, it moves the emphasis of this research to more qualitative observations made in Dutch society. As previously presented, this will be based on media observations.

The theoretical framework for media analysis is based on Tewskbury & Scheufele’s theory of news framing research, specifically with regards to sociological roots (how underlying motivations are interpreted), information effects (how ideas are organized for it to provide meaning to the context of unfolding events) and political actors (how the framing of issue stances in press releases are different from its media coverage) (Tewskbury & Scheufele, 2009).

The second story of this thesis covers a case study by The Economist around Ali Bouali, better known by his stage name Ali B a Dutch music artist, reality-television host and multiple business-owner of Moroccan descent. As the article depicts, Ali B played into Dutch popular culture by embracing his descent while reconfiguring misconceptions about the negative association Moroccans have in Dutch society — by referring to himself as a knuffelmarokkaan (or “huggy-Moroccan”) (The Economist, 2015). The article indicates: “the Dutch idiom implies that he is both a token and the squeeze-toy version of a dangerous animal. But Mr B also uses the term lightheartedly about himself, drawing the sting.” As Ali B appeals to cross-cultural audiences and has ascertained himself a place in every Dutch demographic, leader of the far-right PVV party Geert Wilders has never dared to attack him on his views. In the theoretical framework of news framing, the case study of Ali B will be reflected on.

  1. Key concepts

From the picked literature, two key concepts can be identified. (1) Segregation and (2) News Framing. Both concepts are equally important since a general question to the rise of the political party DENK that promotes the interests of ethnic minorities in society should be asked as it will determine the party’s potential future successes. Where does DENK’s narrative of having “to fight for justice and acceptance” come from? On what quantified knowledge is the assumption of racial and ethnic segregation in the Netherlands based upon? And, as presented before, what qualitative indicators can be identified that relate to the framing of social issues by the media – and what are the effects of this on the potential success of the DENK campaign?

  1. Findings

Dutch Colonial History / Dutch Contemporary Society

Dutch colonial history is an important aspect to the shaping of Dutch contemporary society. A trademark that can be identified by anyone in the streets of Europe is the mixture of the global population. For five centuries, between 1450 till 1950, Europeans mixed themselves with “colored” people overseas. Up until half a century ago, within the boundaries of the Netherlands, there was practically only a “white” Dutch population (Vanvugt, 2016).

For a lot of people, slavery is a colonial theme that lives throughout their family history. In the fall of 2013, a national debate erupted over the helper of Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet, and if he could still be welcomed in the festivity or whether he should be seen as the slave of Sinterklaas and as the living symbol of the imprisoned Africans and other forced laborers. What is actual as well is that more people are informed on the wealth that was generated through slave trade and that the practice was not some side effect to Dutch colonialism in South East Asia (Vanvugt, 2016).

The justification by Christian slave-traders for their profession by quoting the Bible (Genesis 9:22-27; Letter of Peter 2:18 and Leviticus 25:44-46) falls in the tradition same as the depiction of Africans during colonial times as “heathens” and “embodiments of the Devil.” As for Zwarte Piet, his original frightful image changed in the second half of the 20th century and he became a friend of children. Nevertheless his image has remained a symbol of colonial times and offensive to black people (Vanvugt, 2016).

Despite being highly regarded as the first multicultural intellectual, the slave who became an aspired theologist, Capitein, found himself in a duality in his profession – being trapped between two fatherlands he witnessed the cruelties of the Dutch in their colonies. He initially found himself not socially accepted in Leiden, therefore desired an African woman to marry much to the rejection of his employer and his church (Vanvugt, 2016). In this example, much like in contemporary Dutch society, integration primarily meant accustoming to Dutch norms and values through the learning of Christianity. It eventually meant marrying to a European woman, much to the lesser extent of Capitein’s fortune. What can be witnessed now in Dutch society is the rejection of families of non-western descent who hold conservative values, in particular muslim families. The citation “go back to your own country!”, has become commonly known throughout European societies, especially on social media.

Racism in Dutch Media

The integration of “colored peoples” on Dutch television through the years have not been without difficulty. Obviously there is the public debate on Zwarte Piet that brought forth the nastiest of native Dutch society never before seen. More interesting and starting on a lighter note is the case study that is presented by The Economist on Ali B.

Ali B, in the media, has always been underestimated. Maybe it is because of his wide smile and boyish appearance, maybe because of his descent in an overwhelmingly “white” Dutch media landscape. As The Economist found, Ali B avoids taking a stand on controversial issues such as Zwarte Piet, joking that as a Moroccan, the only thing he understands is the feeling of someone entering your house without your knowledge. The biggest success he has accomplished in Dutch society is turning around the perception of being a “dangerous” Moroccan to being a “huggy-Moroccan” by publicly dancing and hugging with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2005 – the same year he won a television award for Best New Artist. Contemporary findings of the negative connotation the term ‘Moroccan’ has can be searched through Twitter using the hashtag (#marokkanen) and finding almost only negative outings related to vandalism, migration, and payback using mid-evil practices such as stoning (Twitter, 2016 ; June 13th – June 25th). The negative connotation of the term that is neutrally accorded to one’s nationality relates to the theory of information effects by Tewskbury & Scheufele. The organization of a central idea or story line provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events. Information effects result from a process in which people acquire beliefs and impressions of an issue and its context. The framing effect of the term ‘Moroccan’ occurred when the phrase and the statements suggest a particular meaning or interpretation of the issue (Tewskbury & Scheufele, 2009; p 19 ).

In Dutch public perception, the integration of muslims, in particular Moroccans, has failed. This has led to the success of deceased political leader and libertarian thinker Pim Fortuyn (1948 – 2002), who was assassinated for his political views on racial and ethnic equality – following the social tensions that were initially repressed by the political parties of the sitting government. Later, his role would be replaced by nationalistic leaders of whom the most popular, Geert Wilders of the PVV, routinely condemns the religion of Islam and ethnic minorities who follow the religion’s teachings. Today, in the year 2016, it becomes more and more clear that racial and ethnic minorities in the Netherlands have much more difficulty in achieving prosperity and opportunity in society; of the active population, 77,1% of Dutch natives have a paid job against 49,5 % of immigrants and those of non-western descent, one of the highest differences in Europe (FD, 2015).

Racial and ethnic prejudices coming forth from historical context and contemporary changes in society are defined as sociological roots. Human beings process complex information in their everyday lives by reducing social perception to judgments about causal attribution (Tewskbury & Scheufele, 2009 ; p 18). What this essentially means is that prejudices created by culture and society are a natural way for human beings to understand information, whether in a correct or wrong way. It would mean that statistical evidence on the difficulties that racial and ethnic minorities experience in society can contribute to wrongful generalizations such as stereotyping, but also that misperceptions about one’s culture could trigger unintended consequences in understanding this person’s motivations.

The Political Party DENK

From the judgments of causal attribution, segregation in Dutch society and unjust news framing brought forth new movements. ‘Zwarte Piet is Racist’ founded by Quincy Gario seeks to change the image of the Sinterklaas festivity (Gario, 2012). ‘Is This White Enough For You?’, an action started by schools in Amsterdam to address the issue of “black” and “white” schools (Parool, 2015). ‘Strijd Tegen Racisme’, or Fight Against Racism, a call to address police brutality that resulted in the killing of Mitch Henriquez (42) (StrijdNL, 2015). And more can be mentioned.

As affirmative action is left out in Parliament, the political party DENK aims to address the issues felt by a substantial part of the Dutch population in order to enforce policies that correlate directly to the key concepts of the thesis: (1) segregation and (2) news framing.

In DENK’s manifest, a number of issues are presented and a number of party points are set out to address these issues. The manifest addresses how the general discourse of “us and them” divides the native Dutch and those of non-western descent (DENK, 2015 ; p 2). The manifest talks about “double standards” and how the Netherlands has become more right-leaning over the years (DENK, 2015 ; p 5 & p 4). Because of this divide between “us and them”, DENK regards that “unity is diversity” and that people in the future will acknowledge a more diverse society, due to demographic changes, so is their train of thought (DENK, 2015 ; p6). Moreover, instead of neglecting ethnic minorities, “people should be proud of their heritage” (DENK, 2015 ; p 8). The manifest presents five party points, namely: “acceptance”, “social(ism)”, “education”, “sustainability”, and “justice” (p 9). These points are addressed as follows:

Acceptance:

  • in each municipality, there will come a “Monument for Migrant workers” (p 10)
  • there will be erected a “Museum for Colonies” (p 13)
  • people who have said hurtful racist things will be documented in the “Racism-register” for employers and the like to consult (p 14)
  • conspiracy-theorists ought to be called “truth-finders” (p 16)

Social(ism):

  • 1% owns 61% (p18)

Education:

  • more optional languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Turkish (p22)

Sustainability:

  • green energy (p 26)

Justice:

  • to recognize Palestine (p 30)
  1. Discussion and analysis

The key concepts of (1) segregation and (2) news framing are addressed in a specific manner by DENK. A side-note with regards to DENK’s political program is that in the current fragmented political playing field in the Netherlands, smaller parties tend to emphasize only one or two main points from their program in order to gain compatibility when the cabinet is formed. This brings about more emphasis to their specific goal, “to fight for justice and acceptance.” However, it discounts accountability with regards to their “side-program” of which its party points are valued to a higher degree by the electorate in the case of more sizable political parties such as the Labour’s Party (PvdA), the liberal-conservatives (VVD), the progressive-democrats (D66), the christian-democrats (CDA), the socialist-party (SP).

Broadly, DENK’s program can be identified as having a socialist economic program, putting emphasis on education with a liberal bias with regards to the taught languages. DENK also wants to improve the progressive energy program. Yet, the party does not specify in very much detail its stance on foreign policy. The reason for this has to do with the positioning of the party with regards to the potential electorate it wants to reach, therefore remains vague in most of its points that relate to the economy, social security, green energy and foreign policy, yet gives hints for the electorate to imagine the content for themselves. DENK’s prime party point remains “to fight for justice and acceptance.”

DENK’s likely target audience for the campaign are therefore those who may experience their personal lack of fortune as a collective segregation from Dutch society. DENK promises to integrate racial and ethnic minorities through their historical connection to the Netherlands and bring the cultures into the rightful context of Dutch society.

As one of the examples, under the political talking point of ‘acceptance’, the manifest suggests that “in order to work towards a common identity, there should be an understanding of each others’ past and an opportunity to share this.” To make the past visible DENK pleads for a ‘Monument for Migrant Workers’ in every municipality in commemoration of the wealth that has been helped creating by the migrant workers that came to the Netherlands. Here, DENK emphasizes the goal to make migrant history knowledgeable in general education (DENK, 2015 ; p 10).

This symbolism for a better understanding of migrant work ethic plays into the general assumption that non-western immigrant families do not function in Dutch society and would receive social benefits more frequently than native families. The numbers go back and forth over the years, therefore a general assessment of this assumption would not help illustrate the point that right-wing media and right-wing politicians have been playing into this assumption in the past for their own (political) gains.

In its manifest, DENK identifies that the negative prejudices of migrant families have led to institutionalized racism that is felt throughout society in its education system, the workforce and the criminal justice system. This is being linked by DENK to Dutch colonial times and they therefore suggest to create a ‘Museum for Colonies’ so that “hundreds of thousands of children can come to The Hague and reflect on the suffering of society’s ancestors” (DENK, 2015 ; p 13). In matters of policy, a ‘diversity quota’ for governmental functions is suggested; however, it is not specified in the manifest how or to what specific functions this quota would be allocated to (DENK, 2015 ; p 14). Institutionalized racism has become a widely discussed item in the Netherlands as police programs increasingly contribute to which social groups are more likely to be subjected to harassment by the, who are being questioned more often, and who are more likely to be charged with a criminal offense.

Institutionalized racism and its consequential social segregation in Dutch society is a topic that divides the nation as the public discussion about Zwarte Piet has shown. It is also not a topic that, although its importance to contemporary Dutch society, is relatively little discussed by liberal media outlets. The NRC liberal newspaper only commentated on DENK’s political program, whereas the general news website NU.nl’s interview with DENK was mainly interviewing on the arrest of a Turkish-Dutch journalist in Turkey, a possible link to Turkey’s President Erdogan, and DENK’s opinion on western satire (NRC, 2016) (NU.nl, 2016).

Tewskbury & Scheufele’s take on news framing with regards to political actors and how analyses have shown that media coverage of candidates during elections is often different from the way candidates frame their issue stances in press releases, and that candidates are only moderately successful in getting their frames across in election coverage, depicts the difficulties that DENK experiences in bringing across their message of “unity” ( Tewskbury & Scheufele, 2009). As the Nu.nl interview brings forth, DENK has a lot of trouble in gaining trust from the media. Reasons can be found for this that are linked to the general perception of muslims by the “white” establishment media as the previous example of Ali B has shown. Yet DENK’s political point from the manifest that directly threatens the credibility of media outlets and is the likely reason for it to receive so much scrutiny is the claim that “conspiracy-theorists ought to be called ‘truth-finders’” (DENK, 2015 ; p 16).

In the manifest itself, a correlation to “freedom of thought” can identified for the justification of celebrating those who believe in conspiracy theories. A second reason that can be identified in the manifest is its emphasis on the growing hate of muslims and how this started after 9/11 as it is written in the first paragraph of the manifest. It would be cynical of me to accuse DENK of propagating the believe that the 9/11 attacks were a false flag operation conducted by the United States in order to wage a war against muslims – as there are many theories that lie in the same line as this train of thought – yet, this assumption would give its critics reason to investigate DENK’s foreign policy plans and how their potential assumptions would determine this exhibition. However, the only substantial foreign policy that is depicted is to suggest a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Other than “not blindly following the U.S. its policies”, nothing much is suggested which leaves liberal media outlets enough space to test the accountability of DENK. The NU.nl-interview makes very critical remarks about its ideological tendencies that are comparable to the ones of Turkey’s President Erdogan, and an article by the NRC researches the integrity of one of DENK’s politicians, Ozturk, for his condemnable business transactions in former functions in healthcare institutions (Nu.nl, 2016) (Wester & Dohmen, 2016).

To this last bit, DENK responded with two videos in a not before seen manner in Dutch politics. The first video called ‘The Media Do Not Want You To See This’ is basically a warning to “the fourth power” of the establishment, namely the media, wherein DENK’s party leaders call investigative reporting “a game in which you can choose what to believe for yourself” – while pointing their finger to the camera (DENK-Facebook, 2016 : 2). The second video is called ‘What The Media Does Not Show . . . The Real Story. . .’ and is a direct reaction to the NRC article on Ozturk’s business transactions in which the four members of DENK deny the claims that the NRC news paper made (DENK-Facebook, 2016 : 3).

The thing that noticed me about this conflict between a political party and media outlets, is that when DENK was asked by a right-wing media outlet called PowNews if the first video was directed at them they denied this. This is particularly strange since PowNews and their affiliated news sources for years have spread misinformation and half-truths about people of Moroccan descent and their culture. Instead of aiming its arrows directly to those who DENK claims to propagate for division in Dutch society, it aims its attacks on a liberal news paper that conducts investigative journalism.

DENK’s fight “for justice and acceptance” transcends its supposed role in society. The political break-up from the cabinet-party PvdA has resulted in DENK’s inherent anti-establishment nature. Therefore, choosing to wage a fact-free information war with established media outlets by addressing conspiracy theorists as truth-finders is a strategy in itself to gain attention for the purpose of DENK’s political campaign.

  1. Conclusion

The theory of Uscinsky & Parent that says that the induction of anxiety or loss of control triggers seeing nonexistent patterns that “evoke conspiratorial explanations” is an explanation I like for the popularity of – especially Youtube- conspiracy theories (Uscinsky & Parent, 2014). I have not fully researched the theory of Uscinsky & Parent to be able to incorporate it to full extent in this thesis, however, the successes that the political party DENK gains through its media-conspiracy outings is a factor that should not be overlooked. The reality is that mainstream societal preferences – “whites”– have gained in recent years in Dutch contemporary society, probably because of nativistic tendencies brought forth by political parties that inspire xenophobic tendencies. The challenges that Dutch society faces on the issue of social acceptance of citizens of non-western descent has not been helped by how societal issues around migrant families have been framed. In order for the political party DENK to play a role in the predominantly “white” news field, they are currently shaping their own news field, sharing information and “truths” about how they see them fit in their own gain.

In Dutch politics, the disposition and alienation of migrants families and those of non-western descent has resulted in a division in Dutch society. This is moreover fueled by the status quo’s inability to reach out to grass-roots organizations that have used their only means of gaining publicity for the issues that hold value to their communities. The political party DENK’s “fight for justice and acceptance” is a righteous one in its context. Its tendencies to reach out to the electorate in its use of conspiracy theories justifiable due to the decentralization of news media in general and its successes explicable according to DENK’s assessment of the role the news media play in DENK’s supposed fight for the just cause.

Likely, the Netherlands will see a surge in the spread of disinformation in the run-up to the March 2017 Parliamentary elections – not only from the established far-right movement led by the PVV. DENK’s cause to address the injustices that are disproportionately affecting racial and ethnic minorities in the Netherlands will likely bring new people to vote. Moreover, the likelihood that the issues presented by DENK will move the establishment parties, especially the PvdA and VVD in a new direction is slim. With a resulting smaller amount of seats in Parliament to the gain of DENK, the establishment parties will come to understand that the anti-establishment movement led by an “ethnic minority” is strong and that their fight for social acceptance is real, whatever their tactics may be.

Bibliography
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