A not so divine comedy

29th October 2003, Comments 0 comments

Journalists often dine out on the stories behind the stories they report. Sometimes, behind the scene events become an integral part of the story itself. Freelance journalist Mindy Ran reports on the current obstacle course that is reporting on asylu

It would almost be funny, if it wasn't so tragic. Thirty days of phone calls, emails, silly excuses, red herrings, evasion and broken promises. Yes, I am talking about the Dutch government, or more specifically, political parties. The idea was simple enough. It has long been clear that the Dutch media has not given enough attention to issues surrounding asylum seekers and immigration in general. When they do, it tends to be straight forward news reporting that does not look critically at the issues. For example: the Human Rights Watch report which alleges human rights abuse within the new asylum policies was almost universally ignored by the main stream Dutch press when it was first published. Yet, when recently forced back into Parliament because they had to answer the allegations before the UN by the end of the year, the coverage was simply of who said what, and did not look much further.  So, in the interest of broadening our coverage of this pivotal issue, it was decided to produce a series of articles beginning with a simple overview to bring our readers up to date. Seven very basic questions were posed to the following political parties: Labour PvdA, Christian Democrat (CDA), Democrat D66, Lijst Pim Fortuijn LPF, and for balance, the Foundation of Refugee Organisations VON. After speaking to each of the press officers of each party, it was decided to send the questions in email form. This, they said, would make it easier and faster to answer. In fact, it appeared to make it easier to ignore. The PvdA was initially very enthusiastic about providing their policy positions: 'they would love to answer the questions.' After 10 days of no response, phone calls and follow up emails lead to the information that the press spokesperson (one of two) was ill, and the other unable to cope. I was expected to believe, and respect, that one of the largest political parties in the country was unable to answer media questions because of the common cold. Further emails and phone calls more than a week later netted not a single response of any form from the once so-enthusiastic PvdA. Therefore, they are not included in the final article. Having heard nothing from D66 either, I contacted the press office and was told they had not received the email. Odd, as I had received no notice of this failed delivery. No matter, I sent it again and received the response that the questions were too detailed to be handled by a press spokesperson. They were being referred to their parliamentarian on the subject for a more comprehensive reply. It was understood that it should be handled sooner rather than later. More emails and phone calls later, I was promised by the press office I would get my answers shortly. A week on, I have yet to receive anything from D66 except empty promises. Therefore, they are not included in the final article. The real comedy began when trying to follow-up the initial email sent directly to the immigration parliamentarian of the Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's CDA. Every time I called, I was connected to the answering machine of one of the CDA MEPs (although this information was not on the answering machine message). This lead to a highly confused conversation with a much harried sounding gentleman in Brussels, who did not appreciate me asking questions about Dutch policy issues. Calling back I was informed that the operator heard my voice and simply assumed it was an international question. No matter, could they please connect

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