Reporting Piet in blackface; guidance from your union

27/11/2020 0 By Admin

Reporting current news events, involving zwarte Pieten in blackface, poses many challenges.

But NUJ Netherlands and the union nationally can offer support and guidance. Last year, we took a stand on how this issue is reported and our position remains as important and relevant today.

Key is our union’s professional Code of Conduct which states journalists should not produce material “likely to lead to hatred or discrimination” on the grounds of, among other things, “a person’s race, colour, creed”.

NUJ NL member Marvin Hokstam, who is also a member of the NUJ’s Black Members Council, first raised this issue with NUJ Netherlands as part of his long-running campaign for non-discriminatory reporting.

Marvin writes:

When I see national media reporting people in blackface as innocents who were accosted by annoying anti-racism protestors, it makes me think ‘what does it say about your country?’ I am in full support of a statement that anti-zwarte Piet movement Kick Out Zwarte Piet will be issuing, which will call on media houses to do better. Because media consumers deserve better.

Marvin has also worked with the Netherlands and other Continental European branches on a motion specifically on this issue which has been adopted by the NUJ’s National Executive Council which states:

  • The NEC notes that the festival of Sinterklaas will soon be celebrated in the Netherlands and Belgium.
  • The NEC notes that the character of Zwarte Piet, who accompanies Sinterklaas, is predominantly portrayed by someone in ‘black face’, and this continues to be enjoyed by many who consider it to be an innocent tradition. 
  • Each year there is increased debate and controversy around Zwarte Piet, requiring journalists to cover the topic and arguments. 
  • The NEC reminds all those covering Zwarte Piet of the NUJ Race Reporting Guidelines which state that journalists, “should not originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of race or colour.
  • The NEC supports journalists in Continental Europe in their efforts to encourage non-discriminatory reporting of Zwarte Piet and those trying to raise a discussion about his role in the Netherlands and Belgium in the 21st Century.

The topic of zwarte Piet incites powerful reactions. Recently there have been arrests among pro-Zwarte Piet demonstrators in Venlo and Eindhoven. Meanwhile, some Dutch libraries have begun removing images of a Piet in blackface from its shelves of children’s books. The NUJ will continue to support its members who are trying to cover this important topic, in accordance with the union’s guidelines and code of conduct. The NUJ Race Reporting Guidelines provide clear guidance on how to ensure such reporting.

Commenting on the wider issues raised by the continuing appearance of a Piet in black face, Marc Wadsworth, Chair of the NUJ’s Black Members Council says:

The BMC believes it is an abomination that the racist “Black face” stereotyping of people of colour still goes on around Sinterklaas in the Netherlands and Belgium. Such things have no place in the 21st century.

He added that the BMC has raised these issues through the Brussels and Netherlands branches and will continue to campaign on them.

For further information:

2019 statement from chair Tony Sheldon.

NUJ guidelines

NUJ Race Reporting guidelines.

Black members.