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TV access: the Dutch solution

(Page 2 of 2)



What about individual shows, though? How do they get from the drawing board into production?

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No broadcasting group has its own studios. Instead, they turn to NOS (Nederlandse Omroep Stichting, the Netherlands Broadcasting Corporation), a government organization that provides studios and equipment, props, technical staff, and so on.

NOS is a ''service organization,'' says Gerard H. van Beek, the head of the NOS press office.

It, too, is a broadcaster, supplying ''a number of programs which can not be made by different organizations,'' says Mr. van Beek. ''Let's say a daily news program can not be made by an organization which is not every day on the air. The Olympic Games three weeks at a stretch can not be covered by one of the organizations; it must be done by cooperation.''

Although the news on NOS is technically being produced by the government, it is NOS policy to be objective in its coverage. Each of the independent broadcast organizations is expected to have programs that treat a few items in detail and add perspective to the news.

An American being introduced to the Dutch broadcasting system will find few points of reference with network television in the US to guide him in sorting out the intricacy of the Dutch system. But programming is only part of broadcasting.

There's also advertising, and here the American will do a double take. For while advertising is permitted on Dutch TV, commercial sponsorship of programs is not.

Commercial sponsorship is avoided by placing advertising only before and after the news programs in something of a program block of its own.

''And we would like to keep it that way,'' says Professor van Cuilenburg, who calls the Dutch attitude towards TV ads ''a little ambivalent.''

''On the one hand, we would like to have no advertising at all,'' he says. ''On the other hand, it's a costly business. Without advertsising, TV and radio license fees would double, he adds.

Americans, accustomed to several commercial interruptions of their programs, would be startled to see how little advertising there is on Dutch TV. It is limited by law to a total of three hours a week on the two channels.

The Dutch stand on commercialism reaches beyond the question of advertising. Broadcasting groups are also prohibited from having any outside commercial interests, and are required by the broadcasting act to be nonprofit institutions. According to Professor van Cuilenburg, three of the broadcast organizations are apparently in violation of this policy, and the Dutch government is investigating the matter.

''We are very keen on the commercial interests,'' the professor says. ''It's forbidden.''

The absence of commercial sponsorship means that the popularity of a particular program is a much less pressing concern than it is in the US, where the ratings of TV shows (the number of viewers and the demographic information concerning them) determine whether a program will continue to be aired.

Dutch broadcasters are not so much concerned with ratings as they are with the size of their membership, which will be dictated by overall trends in programming, rather than by the popularity of a specific program.

In the early 1950s, when television was in its infancy, J. W. Rengelink, secretary of the Television Foundation that preceded NOS, said, ''

The danger of advertisers determining the contents and the editing is much greater in radio and television than in the case of a newspaper.''Those words still sum up the general Dutch view.

''We do not like a commercial system here,'' says Mr. van Beek of NOS. In the '60s a commercial system of broadcasting, which would have been in competition with the existing noncommercial one, was proposed, but the idea never got anywhere.Mr. van Beek says he believes the present system is quite adequate:

''Every group is competing, of course, but not owing to the fact that they have more money than the other group, no. Maybe they have better ideas, or they are somewhat quicker to play the interesting programs from abroad.''

The last point is something of an anomaly. The Dutch just smile and shrug their shoulders when they are reminded that their system imports many of the highest-rated American series, products of a commercialism that they eschew.

''The Love Boat'' (VARA); ''Dallas'' and ''Vega$'' (AVRO); ''Dynasty'' and ''Happy Days'' (VOO); and the 1950s Groucho Marx series ''You Bet Your Life'' (VPRO) are currently being broadcast. They are in English with Dutch subtitles, since the Dutch view the dubbing of film as a cultural atrocity.

''All the popular series in the States are popular here as well, and we are even in a better position than in the States,'' Professor van Cuilenburg says with a smile, ''because we can look at them three times if we want'' - on Belgian and German television, which is available via cable, as well as on Dutch TV.