Media Act: rules for broadcasters and programming

One of the aims of the Dutch Media Act 2008 is to provide a varied range of radio and TV channels, which everyone can receive. The Act sets requirements for both public and commercial broadcasters.

Rules for public broadcasters and programming

The Media Act sets requirements for public broadcasters in the Netherlands and programming. There are also rules for advertising on the public channels.

  • Programmes on public channels

    The role of public broadcasters is to provide news, educational and children’s programmes as well as to make programmes about politics and sport. They also cover special events such as days of national celebration and remembrance. Programmes on the public channels should reflect the diversity of society. To achieve these aims, public broadcasters receive central government grants.
  • Limits to advertising and sponsoring

    Advertising is allowed on the public channels, but not as often as on commercial channels. Programmes on the public channels may not be interrupted for commercial breaks. Sponsoring is limited to, for example, arts and sports programmes.
  • Requirements for broadcasters

    The broadcasting associations NOS (Netherlands Broadcasting Foundation) and NTR are responsible for the programmes on the public system. Broadcasting associations must meet certain conditions to get airtime. For example, they must have at least 50,000 members. And their goal must be to make programmes that reflect their mission. 

Reforms to the public broadcasting system

The Dutch government has plans to reform the public broadcasting system. From 2016, public broadcasters will have a narrower remit. They will be required to make informative and educational programmes, and programmes about the arts and culture. Other programme-makers will also have direct access to the system, a right which was previously exclusively held by public broadcasting associations. Public broadcasters will have to make a clearer distinction between themselves and commercial broadcasters. Parliament still has to approve these plans.

Rules for commercial broadcasters

Commercial broadcasters do not receive money from central government. So fewer rules apply to them. Yet the Media Act does set a number of requirements for commercial broadcasters and their programmes. For example, they are not allowed to broadcast commercials for longer than 12 minutes an hour. Sponsoring of news and current events programmes is prohibited. Commercial broadcasters also have to keep to the rules on the protection of children.

The Dutch Media Authority checks that commercial broadcasters obey these rules.

Protection of children

Broadcasters – both public and commercial – are prohibited from broadcasting programmes that are harmful to young people under the age of 16.

Is a programme less suitable for young viewers? Then it may not be broadcast before a certain time. Programmes rated as suitable for viewers from the age of 12 may be broadcast from 20.00. Those only suitable for viewers aged 16 and over may be broadcast from 22.00 to 06.00.

No government interference with content

Journalists and programme-makers are free to write, publish and broadcast what they wish. Central government does not interfere with content. The government may never check content in advance. This is laid down in both the Constitution and the Media Act.

Changes to the Media Act

Changes were introduced to the Media Act as of 1 January 2014.

  • Standard digital TV and radio packages

    Suppliers of TV and radio packages are required to provide their subscribers with a standard digital package made up of at least 30 digital TV channels. If they also supply analogue television, the package must have at least 15 analogue TV channels. The standard package must always contain the main Dutch and Flemish public TV and radio channels.
  • Reorganisation of the public broadcasting system

    Broadcasting associations will have to merge. By 2016, the public broadcasting system will comprise just eight broadcasting organisations. The media budget will be gradually reduced. By merging, broadcasting associations can work more closely together and make better programmes. This will also make the public broadcasting system more manageable, and improve efficiency.
  • Funding regional broadcasters

    Central government now funds the regional broadcasters. This means that both the statutory duty of care and the financial responsibility for the regional broadcasters fall under central government. Up to 2014, regional broadcasters were funded by the provincial authorities. As of 1 January 2017, the total budget for regional broadcasters will be cut by €17 million.