Dutch news in brief, Tuesday 17 February 2009

17th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Find out what’s the latest news in the Netherlands in the roundup of today’s press from Radio Netherlands.

Weesp school threats spark media debate

The case of the mysterious death threats against schools in the town of Weesp near Amsterdam has now been solved — two youngsters have admitted to making a hoax phone call, claiming to be "the Weesp serial killer." Just two kids up to a bit of mischief you might say. But the case has sparked a discussion on how we respond to such incidents nowadays and how the Netherlands treats its juvenile offenders.

Under the headline "Mischief makers stir up intense fear," nrc-next asks "were people's fears realistic or were we dealing with a mass psychosis and a media hype?" Criminologist Hans Boutilier concedes "it was a scary situation" but adds "it's hard to keep things in perspective these days ... when everyone is out to find someone to blame." Media sociologist Peter Vasterman blames the authorities for "up-scaling incidents", a phenomenon "that started after 9/11 and that has only got worse since the killings of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh."

Weesp case highlights juvenile justice issues

The two hoax callers from Weesp, aged 13 and 14, have spent the past week locked up in a youth detention centre and are being allowed home today under house arrest. Trouw reflects on what they have been through and speaks to Ido Weijers, Professor of Juvenile Justice who describes the boys' treatment as "symptomatic of the ease with which the Dutch authorities put children behind bars prior to a conviction."

He points out that "in the past 20 years, the Netherlands has gone from being a very moderate country in this respect to the front runner in Europe." Trouw notes that this view is backed up by a UN children's rights committee, which in January expressed concern about the number of minors on remand in the Netherlands.

Professor Weijers continues "Being behind bars can be a traumatic experience and children can leave a jail cell in a worse state than they entered it." He goes on to question the wisdom of incarceration in this particular case. "I can't imagine that the boys from Weesp will be given a prison sentence for making those phone calls. They are more likely to be given community service … which makes it all the more striking that they've had to spend a week in custody before being charged."

Grim up north?

When reporting on education in recent years, the Dutch papers have been full of concern about the performance of ethnic minority kids in the big cities. But today's de Volkskrant reveals worrying statistics about primary school kids in the largely rural northern Netherlands. School inspectors recently found that 17 percent of primary schools in the provinces of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe were performing either poorly or very poorly.

The paper observes that for the first time the inspectors are blaming the teachers themselves — for expecting too little from their pupils and for not being able to cope with the mixed age-group classes which are a feature of thinly populated areas. The latter is no mean feat, according to one expert: "Combining two age groups is do-able, three is more difficult, and four is well nigh impossible. But merging schools when they are so far apart is not an option. It's an insurmountable problem."

No one seems to know why things are so bad up north. In its search for answers de Volkskrant doesn't eschew the stereotype of Groningers as the down-to-earth silent types: "The clichés are true," says one interviewee "They don't say much and they don't read." However, the focus is mainly on economic factors. Well-qualified families move away in search of jobs, leaving lower educated families who expect less of their kids in terms of academic achievement. No excuse say the inspectors "Even if the parents' expectations are low, there's no reason why the school's expectations shouldn't be high."

Waking up the Netherlands

De Telegraaf searches for news on its own doorstep today, focusing on plans to bring its brand of mass-circulation populism to the airwaves in the form of a new public broadcaster. The paper hopes the initiative, which goes under the name of Wakker Nederland (Awake Netherlands), will attract the 50,000 members required by Dutch law by 1 April with the aim of taking to the airwaves in 2010.

The man behind the plan, De Telegraaf's editor-in-chief  - who rejoices in the name of Sjuul Paradijs (Paradise) - explains his motivation. "We want to be a broadcaster for the silent majority, those who stand for norms, values and tradition without being bound to a political party. For many decades now the voice of a great many Dutch people has not been sufficiently heard in Hilversum (the home of Dutch broadcasting)."

The new initiative is keen to be seen as catering to "people with common sense" rather than the "right-wing populism" often associated with De Telegraaf itself. Whether it can count on such widespread support remains to be seen. For now it can count on plenty of press attention - a front page story, a full page feature and a glowing editorial. All within the confines of De Telegraaf itself, but still ...

Missing schoolkids

De Volkskrant reports on a mysterious case of missing schoolkids in Amsterdam this week. The Montessori Lyceum is missing 20 pupils, the Amsterdams Lyceum is missing three and another 5 have gone AWOL in the neighbouring town of Amstelveen. Thankfully the cause is nothing more sinister than confusion about the spring holidays. This year for the first time Amsterdam has decided to reject the advice of the Ministry of Education and set its own holidays, resulting in confusion and hundreds of children heading off on holiday with their parents this week while the schools don't knock off until next week.

Luckily the offending families can count on leniency from the truant officers. As long as they can prove that their holiday was booked before the confusion about the dates was resolved, a blind eye will be turned. One high-profile absentee is already in the clear. Young Princess Amalia has been snapped by De Telegraaf's photographers skiing with the royal family in the Austrian resort of Lech. But the paper is quick to point out that a special dispensation from the school inspectorate was obtained in advance.

Radio Netherlands/David Doherty/Expatica

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