I am worried. As a citizen in a democracy I am woried about the unbalanced and incomplete reporting on MH17 by Dutch largest news organization NOS . One of the programs made by NOS is the Dutch 8 o’clock news. The news is viewed by an average of 2 million people each day making it the best viewed program on Dutch tv (excluding some important football matches)
According it’s own mission statement NOS must provide objective coverage of news, sports and (inter)national events.
Respect for thruth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.
However, there are many examples this is not the case. The January 3 reporting by NOS on a yet to be released Bellingcat investigation was for me the reason to write this blog.
My criticism on NOS is based on three findings:
- not checking facts on Bellingcat reports and bringing news on a report which was not released to the public and still isn’t at February 5.
- incorrect presentation of facts
- no reporting on relevant news like:
– a major plenary debate on MH17 about missing radar recording (ignored by NOS Journaal)
– criticism of the Russian Federation on the DSB report
– a 8 hour long public hearing on MH17 (ignored by NOS Journaal)
– or other news not in the interest of Dutch goverment
By using clear examples of biased reporting by NOS it is clear NOS is far from being an independant news agency.
Let me first explain what NOS is. Then I will discuss why NOS did a bad job on the Bellingcat report. Even Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellincat, states NOS did not do a professional job. This post will end with some other examples of unbalanced and incomplete reporting by NOS.
Introduction to NOS
Dutch Broadcasting Foundation (Nederlandse Omroep Stichting – NOS) is largest news organization of the Netherlands. The NOS Eight O’clock News, the flagship evening news programme, averages a little over two million viewers, making it the best watched tv-programme in the Netherlands on most nights (more)
The image below is a capture of the NOS financial overview of year 2014.
It says that NOS as public broadcaster is responsible for a broad news supply which is reliable and independant.
Each professional journalist, and the largest news station in the Netherlands funded by tax in particular, should be independant, critical, cautious, reliable, unbiased and should report about the complete context using more than a single respected and reliable source.
NOS as the largest news organization should realize its responsibilty and bring balanced news which has been checked on facts. If not, they should state that the news is not checked.
The Bellingcat report covered by NOS at January 3 2016
At January 3 NOS had breaking news. It was the first item in the main Eight O’clock news as well as on the 18:00 news.
The anchorman of the news started with this line” A group of prominent citizen journalists say they know for sure: it were Russian military who shot down MH17″.
Well, the first line is already wrong. The report, which was not available for the public at the time of broadcast by NOS, will reveal the names of 20 persons involved in the transport of BUK vehicles belonging to the 52nd brigade from their base in Kursk a city about 250 km the Russian/Ukraine border. According Eliot Higgins featured in the newsitem ” within this group of 20 people some knows who is responsible for downing or they did it themselves” .
Bellingcat claims the BUK 3×2 was used to shot down MH17. This BUK however was not seen anywhere near the border of Ukriane as this blog shows. According the narrative of Bellingcat the only link to Russian involvement are the two photos published by Paris Match of a BUK parked in Donestk. Investigation by Arnold Greidanus shows there is no proof the proposed Buk 3×2 was actually in Donetsk.
Back to the Bellingcat report which was expected to be released around January 25. At the time this blogpost was online, February 5, there is still no sign of the report.
The report will not provide no proof that these 20 Russian soldiers actually entered Ukraine. Let alone they were responsible for the shot down of MH17.
Bellingcat makes claims based on assumption, logic or wishfull thinking. Not on irrefuteable evidence.
This blog explains it all.
Bellingcat’s author Aric Toler conforms that NOS jumped to conclusions in this Twitter conversation
Arnold Greidanus, co-editor of this blog , wrote a great blog about to Bellingcat report titled The annotated Bellingcat MH17 primer, or: some questions to which Bellingcat does not provide answers (yet)
Even Bellingcat themselves were not happy with the way NOS reported. Aric Toler, coordinator of investigative journalism Bellingcat, stated in this interview with 112international “I expected that they (NOS) will do it more professionally”
Bellingcat members themselves stated that news media jumped to conclusions. Elliot Higgins stated in this interview with Business Ukraine
It is not just me and Bellingcat who was alarmed by the reporting of NOS. Dutch reporter Steven Derix working as a correspondent for Dutch newspaper NRC describes in this article that NOS went into overdrive by suggesting the prosecution was done by in Leicester (where Eliot Higgins lives) instead of Rotterdam (HQ of Dutch prosecution)
Misschien was dat de reden dat de NOS in overdrive ging. De verslaggever van het Journaal meldde plompverloren dat het „aantal verdachten” van de ramp „flink [was] teruggebracht” – alsof het rechtelijk onderzoek naar MH17 wordt uitgevoerd in Leicester, in plaats van Rotterdam.
The response of NOS on the Bellingcat reporting
I contacted the NOS journalist who wrote the item about the new Bellingcat report. I asked her three question. She responded with anwers as shown below.
Question 1: Who took the initiatief for the article on the new Bellingcat report?
Answer of NOS: “NOS has been in touch with Bellingcat for a long time. We knew Bellingcat was working on a report who was involved in the shotdown of MH17 and wanted to report on the effort of Bellingcat trying to find out the persons responsible. The initiative for the NOS item was on NOS”.
Question 2: Why did NOS did not mention any criticism or nuance on the Bellingcat report? Even members of Bellingcat confirm there is no firm evidence the around 20 people were actually in Ukraine, let alone they shot down MH17.
Answer of NOS : “Bellingcat claims they found out who is involved in the shot down. They do not claim to know who actually shot down MH17. NOS reported about the findings of Bellingcat”.
Question 3: Why did NOS not wait with the publication of this item untill the Bellingcat report was released to the public?
Answer of NOS: “We only wanted to publish this item when we were sure the report of Bellingcat arrived at the prosecutor. And that the prosecutor would take the result of Bellingcat investigation seriously. News should be published when it comes out. The news on the Bellingcat report was fit to print in January. There was no reason to wait for publication for the public”.
Dutch ministers mentioning the Bellingcat report
Even the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, praised Bellingcat, saying: “Het knappe van dit onderzoekscollectief is dat ze, door zo nauwkeurig mogelijk onderzoek te doen, een Openbaar Ministerie kunnen helpen met het achter slot en grendel krijgen van de mensen die hier verantwoordelijk voor zijn. Dus ik vind dat positief.” (The clever thing about this research collective is that, by conducting research this meticulously, they can help the public prosecutor with bringing under lock and key the persons responsible for this. So, I think that’s positive.”).
Also Minister Van Der Steur used the Bellingcat report in his letter to the Dutch Parliament.
This is a very dangerous development.
The narrative of Bellingcat
I have great respect for the work for Bellingcat. In fact I donated money in summer 2014 to help the investigation. However in my believe Bellingcat does not tell the complete story.
To start with, there is evidence like photos and videos showing a BUK TELAR vehicle driving in Eastern Ukraine. The name of the persons who made these videos and photos are unknown. The time of the photo is roughly estimated by Bellingcat based on shadows. Bellingcat repeatately changed the time on which the Paris Match photo was supposed to be made several times.
One of the major issues with this route of the BUK is that there are hardly any reports on social media. This was likely a BUK anti-aircraft system was seen in the area yet hardly anyone made a photo or video. Of other military convoys and events are multiple photos and videos available.
Now lets show some additional examples of NOS twisting facts and suggesting facts which are not facts.
Incorrect NOS reporting example 1
The first example of bias by NOS is this article dated August 11 2015 and titled Bergers MH17 vonden mogelijke raketonderdelen
The text of NOS reads:
If indeed is established that parts of a BUK-missile were found in debris of MH17, this is an important indication for possible involvement of Russia. BUK missiles are indeed supplied by Russia.
My comment: this is really nonsense. Russia indeed manufactures the BUK- missile system. Both Ukraine and Russian armed forces have many operational BUK-systems. The country of supplier of a weapon does not say anything about the identity who uses a weapon.
Incorrect NOS reporting example 2
The next line is incorrect as well. NOS states:
De Russen hebben in mei toegegeven dat een Buk-raket inderdaad de oorzaak kan zijn van het neerstorten van MH17. Translated: Russia admitted in May that a Buk missile indeed can be the cause of the crash of MH17.
This statement is incorrect. In May the anti Putin newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported from an anonymous investigation which concluded a BUK missile was used. The Russian Federation did not state such a thing. You need to know that newspaper Novaya Gazeta confirmed that it benefited from funding by charities established by the US billionaire philanthropist George Soros. (The Guardian). Soros is very much anti Putin.
The next line says:
The prosecutor believes the most likely scenario is MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile shot from an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
The line ‘ controlled by pro-Russian separatists is not what the prosecutor states. In this pressrelease of the prosector it says:
Als het gaat om het gebied van waaruit de BUK is afgevuurd, wijzen de bevindingen van het strafrechtelijk onderzoek tot op heden in dezelfde richting als de conclusies van de OVV. .
Translation: regarding the area where the BUK was fired from, the investigation results of the prosecutor indicate to the same direction as the conclusion of the DSB (editor: OVV final report).
The final report of the DSB does not state that the BUK missile was launched from an area controlled by the separatists. However the chairman of DSB stated in an interview “De grenzen fluctueerden een beetje, maar het is een gebied waar pro-Russische rebellen de dienst uitmaakten.”
Translation: ‘ the borders fluctuated a bit, but it is an area controlled by the pr-Russia separatists‘
Incorrect NOS reporting example 3
Example number 3 is a publication written by NOS research journalist Hugo van der Parre. The article is about the letter sent by the father of a victim to John Kerry.
The article has a paragraph with a header ‘strafrechtelijk onderzoek‘ (prosecution investigation)
The last line translates into “Last week is what made public that the offender group was reduced to 20 Russian soldiers. The last week clearly refers to the to be released Bellingcat report.
Clearly this text is interpreted by the ignorant reader as a link believing the Dutch prosecutor has reduced to culprit to a group of 20 Russian soldiers.
NOS should have written “According to a yet to be released investigation by citizen journalist collective Bellingcat a group of 20 Russian soldier are possibly involved in the downing of MH17.
I asked the author Hugo van der Parre for comment. He agreed that last line was bluntly. He should have stated that the reduction was according Bellingcat. Van der Parre states that the hyperlink provides the needed context to that sentence.
Incorrect NOS reporting example 4
This is a classic example of NOS giving a wrong image of Russia. The NOS 8 o’clock news shows an item on the war in Ukraine. The voice over says Putin did not want to talk to BBC reporter John Sweeney. The video in the NOS item is indeed cut in a way Putin seems to ignore the BBC journalist.
However, a filmcrew of Russia Today was at the same time at the scene and showed a totally different setting. Putin takes a lot of time to answer questions of John Sweeney.
GeenStijl has the video of manipulation by NOS Journaal.
Incorrect NOS reporting example 5
In this article it is reported that the next of kins got a letter from Russia. NOS states that Russia does not anwer the question if Russia has satellite images.
Hij gaat niet in op de vraag of Rusland over de satellietbeelden beschikt.
That is an incorrect statement of NOS. The letter clearly states that Russia sent all available satellite data to the DSB.
Incorrect NOS reporting example 5
At March 7 Bellingcat announced it found the location where the video was made showing an Ukraine BUK. The video was published at July 16.
Bellingcat found out the location of the video was 130 km from the location where MH17 crashed.
NOS Nieuwsuur send on March 8 this Tweet:
Onderzoekscollectief Bellingcat ontdekte dat het onwaarschijnlijk is dat Oekraïense Buk’s MH17 hebben neergehaald: https://t.co/fdYK37Btpe
— Nieuwsuur (@Nieuwsuur) March 8, 2016
Translation: citizen journalists Bellingcat found out it is unlikely that Ukraine BUK’s shot down MH17!
What!?? That is not the conclusion of Bellingcat. Bellingcat found out that this video showed a BUK which could not have shot down MH17. It does not prove there wasn’t any other BUK able to shot down MH17 somewhere else!
After about one hour Nieuwsuur (after I contacted a reporter) deleted the Tweet and replace with a new Tweet.
Examples of NOS lack of reporting relevant news
As I have just showed NOS is twisting facts and adding its own truth. But NOS goes a step futher. It does not report on important newsworthy facts. A few examples.
- At February 4 there was a plenary debate on MH17 in Dutch parliament. This was only the second plenary debate. The debate main topic was on the missing radar recordings. The debate lasted about 2,5 hours.The main outcome of the debate was that Dutch government will not protest against Ukraine and Russia for not providing radar images.
The NOS Journaal did not mention anything at all about this debate. Not in the evening and not on the morning of February 5.RTL Nieuws however had an item lasting a couple of minutes about the debate of the evening before.
- At February 3 a former Ukraine secretary of state claimed that DSB did not request for primary radar recordings. This statement was later corrected that day by the Ukraine ambassador to the Netherlands. Most media covered this story. The NOS 8 o’clock news did not mention anything. RTL Nieuws however had a minutes long item on the radarimages.
- At February 2 the news broke that Eurocontrol confirmed they did not any notification by Ukraine that radar stations were out of order. Dutch newspaper AD reported about this. All other newspapers as well as NOS did not report.
- At January 22 the Dutch parliament questioned all day long over 20 experts on MH17. All regular media reported about this day. However major Dutch NOS 8 o’clock news completely ignored the news on this hearing. The news started with a 9 minutes item about a virus only seen in South America. Read more about this lack of reporting by NOS here.
- Russian Rosaviatsiya sent a letter to the Dutch Safety Board with comments and new facts. NOS did not report on this. Dutch newspaper Volkskrant was the only newspaper in the Netherlands which reported.
- NOS does not report anything about the decline by ruling parties PvdA and VVD of motions filed by Omtzigt requesting a seperate debate on the missing radar images.
- At September 17 2015 the last pieces of wreckage were recovered in Ukraine. NOS did not report. English newspaper Independant did report
- This example is about the public hearing of experts on MH17 by Dutch parliament on January 22. For 8 hours over 20 experts were interviewed. NOS Journaal on TV completely ignored the news.However, the NOS website had some information. Mainly they reported about KLM requesting intelligence services to actively search for information on aviation safety and share knowledge with airlines.NOS however did not report about the refusal of the KLM head of flight operations to tell what the airline knew about the safety of Ukraine airspace on July 17 2014.
Are there any exceptions?
Well, to be honest, NOS somethings does not show a bias. While Dutch newspaper Telegraaf reported that Russian state was behind attempts to break into DSB servers, NOS reported that ‘it was highly likely Russia was behind the cyber attacks. So instead of copying the text of Telegraaf, which was done by ALL other media, NOS was about the only media which contacted the German secret service to get the details.
How come NOS is biased?
So what could be the reason for this biased reporting by NOS? A likely reason is the connection between the Dutch state and the NOS. First of all NOS gets money from the Dutch state. Secondly the the supervisory board of Netherlands Public Broadcasting NPO is directly appointed by the Secretary of State for media affairs. NOS is a public, tax funded broadcaster part and under control of NPO.
This opinion by professor of media and telecommunications law Nico van Eijk of Amsterdam University provides some good insight into the conflict of interest between NOS and the Dutch State.
Why we should not believe anything mentioned in news?
Professor emeritus Cees Hamelink has given various interesting lectures on how people are mislead. TV and newspapers are just a conveyor belt for people like spin docters.
Joris Luyendijk worked as correspondent for NOS, Volkskrant and NRC Handelsblad . He wrote a very interesting book titled ‘ Het zijn net mensen“about his work as a corresponent. Some information about this here. His book shows that media is presenting a filtered view on the Middle East.
Watch the lecture (in Dutch) below