Government communications policy

Within central government it has been agreed that all ministries will use the same basic principles for communication.

Right to information and communication

The public has a right to government information. Actively sharing information is therefore one of government's most important communication tasks. The right to information is set out in the Constitution and the Open Government Act (Wet open overheid, Woo).

People are also entitled to communicate with the government. For example, they can request information, take part in policymaking, give their opinion or make a complaint. This means that they must be able to contact the government easily. So government must provide information about how it works. It must also announce and explain new policies, as well as involve the public in different stages of policymaking.

Some examples of how central government communicates with the public include:

  • Public campaigns on radio, television and the internet to inform people about government policy.
  • The prime minister's weekly press conference to update the public on decisions taken by the cabinet.
  • The Public Information Service, which answers around 340,000 questions for the government each year. The website, which has millions of visitors each year, and its equivalent English site,
  • The Tax and Customs Administration is trying to make filing a return and applying for benefits as simple as possible.

Open Government Act (Woo) addresses both the active and the passive sharing of information: that is, sharing information on request. Information about Woo-applications can be found under the topic Open Government Act (in Dutch).

Over the years, various commissions have made recommendations on improving government communications. For a large part government communications are still based on the reports drawn up by the Wallage commission (2001) (in Dutch) and the Wolffensperger commission (2005) (in Dutch).

Guiding principles of government communications

Within central government it has been agreed that all ministries will use the same basic principles for communication. The main agreements can be found in the Principles for Government Communications.

These include:

  • It should always be clear that government is the source of the information.
  • Communications should always be focused on the content of policy, not on image building for individual members of government. With that in mind, ministers and state secretaries are never be visible in central government publicity.
  • It should always be clear which policy phase the information relates to: has the policy been adopted by parliament or not? Communications about policy that hasn't been approved yet by parliament are subject to strict conditions. They should be factual and straightforward in nature, for instance.

Online communication guidelines for civil servants

The general rules for conduct by public servants (set out in section 125 of the Central and Local Government Personnel Act and the Central Government Code of Conduct on Integrity, for example) also apply to the internet. Civil servants may be critical of government policy but must not make any statements that could compromise their own work or the proper functioning of government.