The Dutch government and the Temporary Commission on the Future of the Press are struggling to reach a consensus as to the most effective manner of improving the health of the nation's press. Media Minister Ronald Plasterk reacted unfavourably to the suggestion made by the commission that his ministry should impose an Internet tax, the proceeds of which going to the newspaper industry.
The Commission, which was set up by the Minister, is concerned that 'old medias' are ill equipped to deal with the challenges raised by the increasing prevalence of new technologies, particularly webblogs.To enable traditional forms of media to ride with the modernisation of information, they apparently need greater financial support.The Commission proposed that a tax of several euros a year should be added on to the subscriptions of Dutch Internet users. In theory, this would generate around 12 million euros, which should be then used by the government to encourage "new initiatives from the press sector".The Minister expressed 'big doubts' about the proposals.
The Dutch government, nevertheless, has shown that it is prepared to interfere to restore the health of the print industry. The government has already earmarked 8 million euros for a press innovation fund. The minister advised:"Let us first spend that money and see what it produces. Afterwards, we can look at where the rest of the money needed can come from", intimating that the government is still prepared to extend the financial aid package if necessary.
In May, Plasterk's ministry launched a subsidised scheme to give 60 young journalists work experience in the Netherland's 30 national and regional newspapers.The Dutch government is now one of a handful of national governments offering their respective press industries handsome financial aid packages, including most notably France and Sweden.
The Commission also called for the drastic reform of existing merger laws. The current Temporary Media Concentrations Act forbids newspaper concerns from having control over more than 35% of the newspaper market. The abolition of this law would allow for newspaper concerns to merge and buy out each others' titles.
The issue of merger regulations are particularly controversial as changes potentially compromise the pluralism of the press.In the UK recently, the government decided that it would broadly respect existing merger laws, which work to prevent the development of monopolies. It also advised the creation of a joint distribution company, which would be used by all newspapers.
Moreover, the Commission called for reforms which would allow newspapers to partner with broadcasters, both nationally and regionally. Such an arrangement would allow for the elaboration of online new services and the freer exchange of information between the agents; one suggestion was that broadcasters should make their programme information available to newspapers, which could then publish TV guides within their content.
The current debate in Holland is echoed in chambers across the world, as governments engage in dialogues with specific committees and pressure groups, concerned to help the press adapt to the digital age with diminished resources. The exact problems, nature of the debates and the solutions inevitably differ country to country, but the overall themes are global.
Source: NIS News