The 40th press conference since the outbreak of the coronavirus Covid-19 last Friday was a momentous one in more ways than one. First of all, of course, because of the tone. As NRC As noted on Friday evening, Prime Minister Rutte and Minister de Jonge did not make a strict, but a humble impression this time.
In addition to being humble, the two also seemed, in the most literal sense of the word, exhausted. They sounded like firemen who had already thrown every fire blanket from their stash onto the fire without being able to give the ‘fire master’ signal. The last extinguishing water seems to have been squeezed out of the hose.
The public doesn’t seem to be doing much better. And no press conference seems to be able to change that. On April 20 this year I coined the term ‘press co-paradox’: the more press conferences we are presented with, the less confidence those press conferences can arouse.
“The flood of press conferences makes you almost forget that citizens are not viewers, but voters,” I wrote at the time. Citizens in addition. “They deserve to be better informed than in a press conference in which two men mainly convince themselves with new dots on an ever receding horizon.”
While I was still looking for the problem in frequency this spring, I now think that the entire concept of the press conference is due for revision. The Prime Minister himself also thinks of this, as was apparent from a sigh he let out during the round of self-reflection to which he treated the gathered journalists. “That’s a quest,” said Rutte when asked what could be done better. “It has to be more successful. This form of press conferences, does it make sense to continue in this way, or are there other ways of doing it?”
Now, of course, it is not up to journalism to think along with the government’s communication policy. But if you’ll allow me, I’ll join our prime minister’s search anyway. Because couldn’t they even turn it around? That the next press conference will be organized by the media, rather than the ministry. With the outgoing cabinet as a guest, and not as a host.
I see before me an everywhere streamed, but at the same time old-fashioned television evening – ahead, in the Christmas spirit – with the best that Dutch journalism has to offer. The cabinet in cross-examination by Mariëlle Tweebeke and Jeroen Wollaars, a minicollege over the omikron variant by Diederik Jekel, an hour for secondary school students with the unsurpassed Nisrine Sahla and Jeroen Gortworst of NOS Stories. A special with new front messages by Geertjan Lassche.
Not as an exercise in propaganda, but as a demonstration of what journalism has to offer today. The cabinet seems to have lost control over the virus, insofar as you can have it. Perhaps it is time for the cabinet to let go of control over the press conferences for a while.
So that a new press paradox can arise. Namely that government communication benefits from sharp journalism and not from reading aloud and advice, with the questions as dessert on an online theme channel.