By 2016, the small religious broadcasters – including Catholic RKK – are to cease their work, as the government has decided to pull the financial plug on them. Originally preserved as a reflection of the perceived variety desired by the television audience in the Netherlands, they are now seen as an unwanted religious presence on state-funded television, since religion is something that belongs “behind the front door”. That is the general tone of the comments I read about this development.
The decision to stop financing these broadcasters – which also include Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and humanists in addition to the RKK – is remarkable in part because the government promised to maintain their licence to broadcast. Now that the financial plug is to be pulled, having a licence is really not much use.
An easy answer would seem to be to find other financers, but the problem is that these are hard to find. A logical financer for the RKK would be the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. But in a time when even they are cutting communication expenses – whatever the wisdom of that may be – they are in no place to cover the costs needed.
But the government’s decision points to an even more serious issue: that faith and all its expressions is not something that should be shown on state television. By singling out the religious broadcasters the governments is basically curtailing the freedom of expression of people of faith and their institutions. It is not a matter of merely cutting costs (that would just as easily be achieved by cutting one of the three public television channels, for example), but a conscious decision to single out a specific group of broadcasters with a clear religious identity. This is no exaggeration. The options of saving money now spent on television are myriad. The decision to remove the religious sound from the television package is a clear signal: “Faith is not something we need or want in our society” (for television reflects society, or at least influences that society, and increasingly for the worse).
Some might ask if it really is such a bad thing, for what do the religious broadcasters contribute? Yes, it is true that individually they do not have many hours available to broadcast programs, and that as a result of that not many people watch them. But these are merely numbers, and numbers considered in comparison to the big boys: the big game shows, the news, the soap series, sports… When numbers become reasons for or against continued existence, we should start to worry. By that I don’t mean that numbers mean nothing. If a broadcaster is evidently superfluous, one could ask if its continued existence would do any good. That is not the case here. The Catholic message is not superfluous, the presence of a televised Mass is never pointless. As Catholics in the Netherlands we need the Catholic presence on television. Lofty as social media are, the Dutch consumer generally still turns to his TV for instant information.
In its choice to single out the religious broadcasters, the state has decided what can and can not be shown on television, and thus becomes totalitarian. It’s not a cost-cutting measure, but the pursuit of an agenda.