Utrecht mayor accused of crushing press freedom
The mayor pressurised a free paper in Utrecht to scrap an unfavourable article about him.UTRECHT – A Utrecht free paper is accusing the city mayor Aleid Wolfsen of muzzling press freedom.
The mayor allegedly blocked the publication of an article about him claiming too much temporary accommodation expenses before moving to the city in Ons Utrecht (Our Utrecht).
In the article, a professor of administrative law Twan Tak was asked to comment on the EUR 17,000 claimed by Wolfsen as accommodation expenses before he moved to Utrecht. Professor Tak replied that the mayor was not entitled to the entire sum of money.
The mayor was contacted to response to the professor’s comment and apparently became extremely annoyed and asked the article to be taken off the paper.
When editor-in-chief Robert-Jan van der Horst refused the mayor’s request, the latter called the paper's publisher who eventually persuaded the editor to remove the article.
De Volkskrant reports Ons Utrecht was warned that publication ‘could have far-reaching consequences’ as the newspaper depends to a large extent on revenue generated by council advertisements.
Van der Horst, said he was put under pressure and the talks with Wolfsen were ‘extremely unpleasant’.
The paper is supported by the trade journal De Journalist which said the article was perfectly fair, offering both sides a voice.
At a press conference held to explain his objections to the article, Wolfsen commented: "This is not about press freedom. It's not really about the facts of this story either, but about the atmosphere and the tone of the article.
"What he said is just nonsense. I'm a former judge and I know nonsense when I see it. This was an attempt to create a specific impression about my person and I couldn't allow that."
Some political parties however disagree.
"Deliberate interference with press freedom is sufficient grounds to demand a council investigation into Mayor Wolfsen's manipulation of the press." said the progressive-democrat party D66.
The leader of a local political party described the incident as "A kamikaze operation by a mayor with a big ego".
Following a debate in parliament about the affair, Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst said new clearer rules are needed about temporary accommodation for new mayors.
Wolfsen will explain his actions to the city council on Thursday.
Radio Netherlands / Expatica