The legal protection of editorial independence is a key pillar of the right to free expression. Editorial decisions should be made by media organisations on the basis of professional criteria and the public’s right to know, without interference from Government, regulatory bodies or commercial entities.150
This indicator addresses the question of whether broadcasters are required to allocate broadcasting time to the Government. It also questions whether pressures from others undermine editorial independence, such as informal and extra-legal harassment that does not amount to physical attacks or violence.151
The reaction of the media to these activities in terms of self-censorship are addressed under Indicator 3.14.
In Curaçao, broadcasters are currently legally required to allocate broadcasting time to carry specific broadcasts on behalf of the Government, albeit for a limited amount of time per day. Article 10 of the Television National Ordinance requires broadcasters to provide “institutions” designated by the Government with free air time for at most 30 minutes a day for announcements in the public interest.
The Government is to determine the specific time of day of such broadcasts.152 Non-compliance with this requirement is considered to be a crime and can be sanctioned with a prison sentence of up to six months or a financial penalty of up to NAf 10,000 (ca. US$ 5,650).153
Similar provisions can be found in the individual television and radio licenses.
The television broadcasting license provisions include an additional clause allowing the Governor to also claim broadcasting time.154
It remains undetermined how this arrangement operates in practice, but occasionally the Government does have a noticeable presence on television and on radio, and several Ministers run their own programmes on television or radio.
This could suggest that the Government does indeed make use of the mentioned provisions. A civil servant who was interviewed indicated, however, that the Government purchases airtime, and does not make use of its right to the free use of airtime.155
In contrast, several media experts stated that the Government did occasionally receive free airtime of between 30 minutes and one hour per week to be used, for example, for ‘addresses to the nation’ or press conferences for a government department.
A media manager who was interviewed stated that the Government
does not always make use of this airtime but that if the Government decides that the following day “a TV station has to go live, it goes live, and does so free of charge”. 156
Another media manager indicated that at least in the recent past, “[the ruling parties] came on air whenever they wanted to”.157
External influence on media content is in practice a far greater threat to editorial independence than that posed by the somewhat antiquated media legislation. Indeed, the pressure that media outlets find themselves under from external actors wishing to influence media content for commercial, political or other interests was singled out by all but a few interviewees during the research process for this assessment.
Media owners themselves often play an important role in the lack of editorial independence in practice, if only because many of them combine
ownership with the job of editor-in-chief.158
Overt practices described in the interviews159 and in responses to the surveys160 include the following:
- • Media owners telling their editors not to discuss a particular issue. For example, to refrain from addressing subjects such as homosexuality or from publishing negative information regarding friends or business partners of the owners. Reportedly, media owners also occasionally steer their journalists into publishing articles to further their own personal interests.
- • Major advertisers suspending their commercials as a means of inflicting pressure. After the broadcasting of an apparently disagreeable report concerning a particular company, there have been cases of advertisers suspending their commercials for a number of days or for a month ‘for administrative reasons’ or simply withdrawing their advertising altogether from the outlet without explicitly communicating their reasons.
- • Companies sponsoring the media, including public companies, or politicians, including ministers, calling to enquire ‘whether something can be done’ about negative reports about them or in an attempt to obtain more media exposure. The Research Team was also told that a Minister requested a media company to take extra care when reporting about neighbouring Venezuela, which is considered an important business partner in connection with Curaçao’s refinery activities. Just recently, a company in financial trouble requested the media not to publish anything on the company without its prior written approval.161 Banks were also repeatedly mentioned as influential entities that the media must handle cautiously.
- • In some cases, it has been reported that money explicitly changes hands, for example, when a company pays for an advertisement to replace a scheduled news item, which it does not wish to see published. Another media manager informed the Research Team that major advertisers also recently tried to have their commercials broadcast as if they were part of the network’s newscast. “Some partners thought their financial support gave them the right to also decide what could and could not be said about their product in the news”.162
In addition, several individuals who were interviewed indicated that money can purchase unobstructed podium time, during which those individuals who are ‘interviewed’ can present their message without criticism.
Although most of the individuals who were interviewed in the assessment suggested that such overt practices occur, they also added that these do not occur often. More commonly, it would appear, editorial independence is at stake due to commercial and political interests exerting influence in substantially more subtle ways. The media are businesses, and in Curaçao, with its large number of media outlets, the near total dependence of these outlets on advertisers and other private financing, paired with the island’s small economy, allows for
little independent news production. Maintaining good relations is essential for the outlet’s viability. Thus, in the words of an interviewed media expert, to survive and keep employees on the payroll, “you have to pamper the financers you have and court the ones you want”.163
In addition, because of the dependence of broadcasters on the Government for their license renewal, pampering politicians, to the extent that they are part of the Government, is essential for business.
There appears to be little professional distance between the media, journalists and the advertisers or the business community in general. In Curaçao, it is not uncommon for companies to distribute gifts, sponsor trips abroad, organise a car lottery and throw parties for the press corps.164
On one recent occasion, two companies that were celebrating their jubilees organised a buffet that included a raffle with prizes of NAf 400 to 600 (US$ 226 to $ 339) as a means of “thanking the local media for their support”.165
Politicians also strive to foster good relations with the media or certain media entities and regularly purchase airtime. Occasionally, their political party ensures the appointment of a journalist or media manager as a member of the supervisory board of a public company, which has become a popular ‘side-job’ for media professionals.166
In particular, several radio stations appear in practice to have been taken under the wing of specific politicians, and several of those who were interviewed specifically noted that Curaçao radio stations, at least the major ones, cannot be considered to be independent broadcasting media.
The independence of TV broadcasters from politics is also occasionally questioned. The interview questions for TeleCuraçao’s televised debate between parliamentary election candidates in October 2012 were reportedly leaked to one of the participating political parties.167
Specifically with respect to state-owned TeleCuraçao, a media manager noted that “[p]oliticians are under the impression that because the Government is a shareholder of UTS, which is the parent company of TeleCuraçao, they are entitled to have the final say, including in what is broadcast”.168
Another way in which individuals at times attempt to influence the media is through the use of public opinion. For example, in one widely publicised case in 2011, the late political leader of one of the then ruling parties publicly called for a boycott of a radio station and its advertisers for “waging a war against the Government”.169
The radio station’s owner responded stating that the politician had “tr[ied] to destroy a company with twenty employees” and that this attempt represented “a dangerous trend”.170
The general view that emerges from the interviews and the results of the surveys carried out for this study is a media landscape in which media owners, media managers and media workers are influenced by the interests of the media’s main sources of financing. As a result, news presentation suffers modifications, in some cases information is toned down or omitted and in other cases given special emphasis, not on the basis of professional criteria but according to commercial and personal interests.
The media managers who were interviewed for this report appeared to be well aware of the importance of ‘neutrality’171 and indicated that they think twice before publishing ‘watchdog’ type news reports because they fear that
such reports will be perceived as exhibiting partiality.
One media professional explained, “for 166 This practice was mentioned in the Interviews on March 19 and 21, 2014. See also Transparency International,
National Integrity System Assessment: Curaçao 2013 (Berlin: Transparency International, 2013), 181-182.
A system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of the media Category 1 those writing critical reports, many things can go wrong; business, on the other hand, is doing well”.172
A total of 41% of the media workers who completed the Media Workers’ Survey reported that advertisers and owners exert a large or nearly complete influence on their editorial content. 38% of those surveyed reported ‘some influence’ from advertisers and another 31% noted ‘some influence’ from owners. Finally, 21% of those surveyed reported noticing ‘no influence’ in their media organisation’s editorial content from advertisers and 28% answered similarly as regards the influence of owners (figure 1).173
149 Response to the Public Survey, conducted for the MDI Assessment Curaçao, 2014.
150 See, e.g., ARTICLE 19 (March 2002), Principles 2 and 4.
151 UNESCO, Media Development Indicators: A framework for assessing media development (Paris: UNESCO, 2008), 47. The issue of physical attacks or violence is assessed under Indicator 3.13.
152 Television National Ordinance, Article 10.
153 Idem, Article 15.
154 TV-license, Article 13, and radio license, Article 15. Note, however, that a radio license does not require broadcasters to allocate time for government broadcasts free of charge.
155 Interview, March 18, 2014.
156 Interview, March 19, 2014.
158 See also the network analysis conducted and further discussed in Category 3.
159 E.g., Interviews January 24, March 18, March 19, March 20, March 21, 2014.
160 Response to the Public Survey, Media Workers’ Survey, and Media Managers’ Survey, conducted for the MDI. A system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of the media Category 1
company in financial trouble requested the media not to publish anything
on the company without its prior written approval.
161 Banks were also repeatedly mentioned as influential entities that the media must handle cautiously.
161 “Mediastilte rondom Ctex verzocht” (Media silence around Ctex requested), Amigoe, August 18, 2014.
162 Interview March 19, 2014.
163 Interviews February 19, February 26 and March 19, 2014.
164 See also Transparency International, National Integrity System Assessment: Curaçao 2013 (Berlin: Transparency
International, 2013), 181-182.
165 “Bedankje voor de Pers” (Thanks to the press), Knipselkrant Curaçao, June 12, 2013, https://www..
net/?p=29365 (accessed May 5, 2014).
166 This practice was mentioned in the Interviews on March 19 and 21, 2014. See also Transparency International, National Integrity System Assessment: Curaçao 2013 (Berlin: Transparency International, 2013), 181-182.
167 See also “TeleCuraçao en TCFM moeten weg bij UTS” (TeleCuraçao and TCFM have to leave UTS), Amigoe,
May 2 2014.
168 Interview, March 19, 2014.
169 “Bedrijfsleven niet gevoelig voor chantage Wiels” (Business sector not sensitive to blackmail Wiels), Radio
Nederland Wereld Omroep, August 1, 2011, http://archief.rnw.nl/caribiana/article/bedrijfsleven-niet-gevoeligvoor-
chantage- (accessed February 11, 2014).
171 Interview, March 19, 2014.
172 Interview, March 21, 2014. Also March 18, 2014.
173 Response to the Media Workers’ Survey, conducted for the MDI Assessment Curaçao, 2014.