Myrthe Hilkens at Communication Science on the Spot

7 March 2017

On 21 February, Myrthe Hilkens, journalist and former politician for the Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid), was interviewed by assistant professor Bert Bakker.

Millions of Dutch voters will head to the polls on 15 March to elect new members for the House of Representatives, the most important chamber of parliament. Myrthe was a temporary member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands from April until August 2011. During this session of Communication Science on the Spot, she shared some insights concerning the political landscape and the interaction between the media and politicians.

Bandwagon effect

In the weeks before the election, a politician cannot afford to make a mistake. Myrthe reflected on how in the past,  Dutch politicians have been caught bluffing during debates and clearly showing doubts. Subsequently, the opinion polls collapsed and many estimated seats were lost. According to Myrthe, this is caused by the bandwagon effect, which suggests that citizens vote for candidates or parties that are likely to succeed; hoping to belong to the winner’s side. Therefore, as a politician, it is more important to maintain a stable reputation than to do something great.

Pressure cooker of politics and media

Myrthe explained that the relationship between politicians and the media in the weeks before the elections can be compared to a pressure cooker. The media logics have changed due to digitalization, and people are increasingly refusing to pay for news. As a consequence, there are fewer political journalists and there is less time for reporting. Even the news itself has a faster pace: on average, politicians get 15 seconds of television time when they are interviewed. Hardly enough to make a solid case, according to Myrthe. She explained that, as a result, populist politicians rarely talk to traditional media outlets, but let the new media work for them. For example, last week one of Geert Wilders’ tweets about Alexander Pechtold demonstrating with Hamas-terrorists was discussed in almost every television show. Eventually, campaigns of populist parties can result in a big circus. Myrthe said that newspapers had to adjust their news coverage about the turnout at the launch of Wilders’ PVV campaign. Among others, the Volkskrant noted there was an incredible crowd of PVV-supporters. Though, according to the people who were present, Wilders was surrounded by more press than supporters.

Action-reaction

When it comes to the traditional media, freedom of speech for politicians is hard to achieve. When a politician prepares an interview or a debate, they have to contact their party leader, subgroup (e.g. foreign affairs), colleagues of the coalition, the minister, the states secretary, etc. in advance. According to Myrthe it would be ideal to polarize the discussion by focusing on action-reaction instead of on the positive and negative. This could possibly slow down the media.

Written by Susan Vermeer

About Myrthe Hilkens

Myrthe Hilkens is a journalist and former politician for the Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid). She was a temporary member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands (Tweede Kamer) from April until August 2011. As a Member of Parliament, Myrthe dealt primarily with issues such as discrimination, human trafficking, domestic violence and sex offences. In January 2012 she became an MP again, but she stepped down in August 2013 because she felt that her personal values did not match with the day to day practice in politics. Myrthe currently works as a public speaker and publicist, and is writing a book about the Dutch Asylum Policy. She also produces a television programme on the relationship between media, politicians and citizens, which will be aired before the elections on 15 March.

Coming up

On Tuesday 11 April Communication Science on the Spot returns with a session on new media innovations and e-health. More information will follow soon, so keep an eye on our website and Facebook page!

Published by  GSC