Feature Story

May 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm (Journalism & Society)

Religion Not the Cause for Bad Behaviour

‘I bet not one of the politicians has actually been to our neighbourhood’

Although the sun does not shine, many people hang around at the Osdorpplein in Amsterdam. The square is surrounded by plenty of shops and a big indoor food market. Fountains are the midpoint of the square. Children run around the water while their parents sit on benches talking to each other. The visitors seem to have different ethnical and religious backgrounds but the noisy kids and peaceful spectators obviously enjoy the day.

It is hard to imagine the neighbourhood has a bad image all over the country. National media report about the local crimes and integration issues only. About sixty percent of the district’s citizens are non-western. The older immigrants do not speak the Dutch language that well and the youth causes trouble during the nights. They drink and smoke outdoors while flaunting their noisy mopeds. According to some politicians, mosques and Islamic schools are the cause for bad integration in the neighbourhood.

Among the shopping public walks a young blond lady. She wears a white coat and green jeans and talks to random people passing by. Veerle (24) works for a charity foundation trying to recruit new donors. ‘The citizens in this neighbourhood are really tough to approach,’ she says. ‘Most of the older people don’t speak the Dutch language and are shy to talk to strangers. A few moslima ladies were interested in donating money but told me they were not allowed to do so. They had to ask their husbands for permission first.’ Veerle looks tired at the clock ‘two more hours to go and I’m off.’

One of the elder visitors at the Osdorpplein is Annie de Jong (79). The lady sits peaceful on a bench with her blue walker in front of her. She smokes a cigarette while watching the kids near the fountain. She clears her throat and smiles. ‘I have been living for thirty-seven years in Amsterdam now. It is a clear case there are more foreigners than there used to be but it does not bother me at all.’

A kid runs by and Madame De Jong smiles. ‘Isn’t it lovely to see all the people having fun? The little children enjoy being outside while their parents can have a chat together. I visit this square almost daily to see it.’

Madame De Jong lights up another cigarette and continues her story. ‘Most immigrants prefer to hang out with each other instead of meeting native Dutch people. Some say it is a shame but I don’t mind. I would do the same thing.’ She seems to know what she is talking about because her brother used to live in the US for decades. He had Dutch friends only. ‘They all sticked to the traditions they were used to. They found it pleasant to hang out together, talk Dutch and eat andijvie or hutspot. They did not give up their native identities. It is exactly the same with foreigners in our country.’

The bench next to us is occupied by a mother and child. The mother, Soraya (33), heard Madame De Jong talking about her brother. ‘I find it really interesting what you were saying because it makes sense.’ Soraya was born and raised in Amsterdam as a child from two Moroccan immigrants. ‘Especially my mother doesn’t speak Dutch very well. We still speak Moroccan at home and my parents don’t have too many native friends.’ Madame De Jong listens carefully while lightening a third cigarette in quick succession.

Although Soraya has lived all her life in Holland, some people still see her as a foreigner. ‘Why wouldn’t I call myself Dutch? I was born and raised here, speak the language fluently and have a job at the Hema (Dutch company).’ Her son screams at a friend near the fountains and leaves his mom’s womb to play.

Soraya does not wear a headscarf or burqa but fancy western clothes. ‘I do believe in Islam and my little boy is raised in the same way. I find it horrible to hear so many people talking about my religion as a cause for bad behaviour. Islam is not the problem.’ Madame De Jong nods and states ‘I bet not one of the politicians has actually been to our neighbourhood. They talk about it, generalize and scare people with it.’ Soraya smiles and adds, ‘of course some teenagers cause troubles at night but that has got nothing to do with religion. That’s just puberty.’

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Queen’s Day 2010

April 30, 2010 at 11:50 pm (The City, Uncategorized)

Queen’s Day is a national holiday in the Netherlands on 30 April or on 29 April if the 30th is a Sunday. Queen’s Day celebrates the birthday of the former Queen of the Netherlands and is supposed to be a day of national unity and “togetherness” (gezelligheid ).

Everybody is dressed up in orange, the national colour. Children sell toys on the markets while the others drink their heads off near/on the famous canals. I made an impression of it….

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News Initiative Assignment

April 20, 2010 at 8:00 pm (Journalism & Society)

Tourists stuck in Amsterdam because of volcanic ash clouds

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport has been closed and many travellers are stuck in town. The disruption has affected hundreds of thousands of travellers since Wednesday when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano began erupting for the second time in a month, hurling a plume of ash 11km into the atmosphere.

Scientists say the volcano is still erupting but producing less ash. However, the tourists in Amsterdam are short of accomodations and travel possibilities. A reportage of the current affairs at Hotel Doria, Amsterdam….

A film by Rowan Fredrik and Boris Braak

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One minute at Schiphol Airport

April 19, 2010 at 2:24 pm (Uncategorized)

Tourists stuck at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport because of volcano ash clouds, April 2010.

a Simon Kwekkeboom & Boris Braak film

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Market Assignment

April 15, 2010 at 9:48 pm (The City)

The Amsterdam Albert Cuyp Market faces serious competition from Albert Heijn supermarkets

The biggest Dutch supermarket, Albert Heijn, has departments everywhere in Amsterdam. What does this mean to the local Albert Cuyp Market? Does the competition affect their business? I visited the market to find out.

                                                A Boris Braak film, 2010 ©

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Feature story

April 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm (Journalism & Society)

Twitter? Incredibly fast, but not entirely reliable

 Twitter, Facebook, Hyves and LinkedIn are some examples of social media. Today’s technology changes so rapidly that many industries, including news organisations, can barely keep up. Shall journalists be incredibly wary when using social media or should they be expected to use it when it leads them to useful information? Although, some current examples of news have already proven the value of Twitter, news agencies find it hard to deal with a digital world that is changing every day. ‘Twitter is like an incredibly fast, but not entirely reliable news desk.’

Twitter has been around since 2006 and has an estimated 6 million users worldwide, while many more people do not twitter themselves but do follow messages from others. Anyone with a mobile telephone with an internet connection and a Twitter account can send out tweets within seconds from anywhere in the world.

Since a year or so, the popularity of the medium has been increasing among Dutch journalists and newsagents. Twitter was used as a news agency after the crash of a Turkish Airlines airplane near Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in February 2009. The micro-blogging service spread information faster than the mainstream media.

Lara Rense, former journalist of BNR Nieuwsradio, was the first to report about the crash. She wrote at 10:37 the first tweet about the accident, 6 minutes after it occurred and 18 minutes before the news broke in all major editorial offices via press agency ANP. ‘We first reported it properly on the radio and then I put it on Twitter.’

The authorities hadn’t confirmed the crash at that time so Rense had to be really careful with her message. ‘Regular listeners to this programme called us to say an airplane had crashed near Schiphol. We will double-check the facts and keep you up to date.’

The NOS, the national news station in the Netherlands, took advantage of the social network as well. Tim Overdiek, Deputy Editor in Chief NOS News, had recognized Twitter as a news source for the first time that day. ‘The crash of the Turkish plane was a new and striking example. It offered the first facts, images, sounds and URL links to relevant websites. One man tweeted he had been on board of the plane himself. With a little detective work we found the guy and put him through to our live broadcast. Thank you, Twitter!’

Today’s technology changes so rapidly that news organisations can barely keep up. It is complicated for journalists how they should deal with the tweets. Most of the messages are speculations and rumours while some are definitely newsworthy. Or, as the BBC defined earlier, ‘Twitter is like an incredibly fast, but not entirely reliable news desk.’

Nevertheless, social networks had proven to be worthwhile during the 2009 elections in Iran. The government had sent all the journalists abroad so there were no reliable sources left, except from the messages on Twitter and Facebook written by Iranian students. The elections were controversial and the opposition had arranged huge demonstrations against the government. The police used violence to stop the protests. The social media websites showed images, sounds and movies of the riots and its violence.

Newspapers, radio- and television stations all around the globe used the footage as news sources because it was the only information they had. International news stations like CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera broadcasted videos from Twitter and YouTube. Most of the time Iranian experts tried to analyse and verify the footage before publication. It was the breakthrough of social media as ‘reliable’ news sources.

According to a George Washington University survey, the popularity of social media sources has been increasing. A majority of reporters and editors use it for researching their stories, as 56% say social media is important for reporting and producing their stories. However, 84% most journalists use information via social media rather cautious because they think it is less reliable than information delivered via traditional media. About half of the journalists of the survey make use of the website Twitter.

Tim Overdiek admits the potential of social networks as valuable news sources but he has his doubts as well. That is why he wrote social media guidelines for him and his colleagues. ‘For a journalistic organisation like the NOS is it an interesting challenge to deal with innovating technologies. We should benefit from Twitter instead of fear it. We must recognize that this is a great news source but it is really important to agree on how to use it the best way possible.’

The focus is now on Twitter, but the principles apply to all Web applications with similar functionality, according to Overdiek. ‘The extra eyes and ears of Twitter mainly apply to breaking news moments. We do not necessarily have to wait until a reporter arrives at location and reports about the latest developments. On Twitter, the reporting has already begun by that time.’

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War Photographer review

March 31, 2010 at 1:45 pm (Visual Journalism)

‘We Cannot Close Our Eyes for Tragic Images’

The movie War Photographer starts with a Robert Capa advice ‘If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough.’ The quote is probably the motto of the famous American photojournalist James Nachtwey. During the 90 minutes movie we see him photographing the most horrific scenes in the most feared conflict zones around the world. Wherever he is, whatever he sees, Nachtwey and his camera are always in the middle of it.

In the first scene, we see people in Kosovo digging graves and women mourning, while Nachtwey photographs them with his noisy camera. Obviously, the rules in conflict zones are totally different from the daily life in western countries. ‘It would be unthinkable in “normal life” to go into someone’s home where the family is grieving over the death of a loved one and spend long moments photographing them.’

People in conflict zones know that the presence of a foreign journalist could be helpful. ‘They understand that a stranger, who has come there with a camera, gives them a voice. The photos can show to the rest of the world what is happening to them.’

Because of the Vietnam War, James Nachtwey wanted to become a photographer in conflict zones. He adored the power of images, especially from those in warzones. ‘But it took me a long time before I was able to feel confident inside myself that I could do this job. Before I had to convince other people, I had to convince myself first.’

                            The trailer of War Photographer, a film by Christian Frey.

James Nachtwey works for the German magazine Stern. The Chief Editor of the magazine adores his experienced employee but warns him for his own safety as well. ‘There are two sorts of journalists who risk their lives the most. The ones who experience it for the first time and the ones who have seen it all before and think they are bulletproof. James Nachtwey must be careful not to think he is bulletproof.’

Nachtwey admits working in conflict zones to be complicated. Unexpected things happen in a region foreigners do not know very well. Nachtwey compares it to a theatre. ‘Instead of being in the audience I am on stage and the script is being written minute by minute as it goes along. I have to anticipate emotionally and intellectually to understand what is going on.’

The most shocking scene in the film is in Indonesia. James Nachtwey saw several guys chasing one man with machetes. They tortured the man ‘in a way children play with puppies’. Nachtwey thought there was no reason to do so and asked the guys to stop.  ‘He (Nachtwey) was on the ground for twenty minutes and praying not to kill the victim’, according a Reuters colleague. In the end the Indonesians killed the guy anyway. Nachtwey’s pictures show the victim lying on the ground while someone else plants his machete in his neck.

Those images are heartbreaking, even for James Nachtwey. ‘I channel my emotions into my work. Anger, frustration, disbelieve or grieve. I try to channel it into my photos.’ Although the horrific scenes, the American thinks it is crucial to witness the tragedies in conflict zones. ‘We cannot close our eyes. We must look at those tragic images. If we don’t, who will?’

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War on terror

March 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm (Media & Conflicts)

A Right-Wing Swing in Political Europe

 ‘Mein Kampf is banned so we should ban the Qur’an as well’

Since the suicide hijackings of 11 September 2001, fears of terrorism and prejudice against Arabs and Muslims is arise. The far-right parties all over Europe have been gaining popularity. The political landscape has dramatically changed. ‘Let’s shoot Muslim delinquents in their knees.’

The far-right parties in Europe gained more popularity during the European Parliament elections in June 2009. The Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) won 17 percent of the vote to gain five seats with their Euro-sceptic and anti-foreigner campaign. Familiar parties in countries such as England, Denmark and Hungary gained more popularity as well. The elections mirrored the successes of far-right parties across the whole continent.

The leader of the PVV, Geert Wilders, is famous and feared for his anti-Muslim statements. He made a movie about the ‘threat’ of the Islam which features scenes of violence and images of people being beheaded. It has been condemned by Muslim leaders all over the world.

Watch an Al Jazeera report on Geert Wilders after the local elections of March 2010

Geert Wilders has been very popular in the Netherlands ever since he founded his Party of Freedom in 2006. The pillar of the party is insulting the Dutch Muslims. Wilders wants to introduce taxes on wearing headscarves, ban the Qur’an and shoot Muslim delinquents in their knees. Some say the politician is crazy, others say he is brilliant. However, in the latest polls PVV will be the second largest in the Netherlands.

Similar parties like the Freedom Party are popular all over Europe. Denmark for example – a well developed and rich country – has the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF). It has achieved a key position in Danish politics with controversial statements about immigrants and integration. For the last eight years DF has helped the Conservative government to maintain a majority.

Mogens Camre, member of the European Parliament for the DF, is really outspoken and warns for the Islam. ‘The Muslims simply cannot keep up with the modern world. If too many of these people come to Europe this will lead to severe damage. And it is not the smart Muslims who are coming over here. Those just go sit together to discuss how to fly an airplane into the WTC.’

All in all, many European countries have been debating their relationship with Islam, and how best to integrate their Muslim populations. What is fair to say and what is discrimination? Where will Europeans draw the moralistic line? When will the populist discussion finally end? We will find out in the years to come.

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EU Regulation

March 27, 2010 at 11:06 am (International Institutions)

No European Starvation Thanks to the Africans

‘Importing fruit from Africa more sustainable than cultivating it ourselves in EU’

The Betuwe is the centre of the Dutch fruit farming industry with the rural village Meteren in the middle of it. Greengrocer mister Blom, eighty years old, sells fruit and vegetables to the locals. Although the region is filled with orchards and gardens, many of his products come from outside the European Union. “It is way much cheaper to grow products in Africa or Latin America.”

The Betuwe is beautiful during the spring and summer with all the blossom trees. Many tourists visit the region and like to walk around for a few days. They taste the fruits and enjoy the peaceful views. Although the popularity of the Betuwe among tourists, many famers face tough economical times.

Greengrocer mister Blom is located in the tiny village Meteren, in the middle of the Betuwe area. His shop is surrounded with orchards and vegetable growers. Most of them produce apples, cherries or peppers. “I sell a lot of Dutch products. Especially apples are great business. Nevertheless, I do trade many fruits and vegetables from abroad as well.”

Greengrocer mister Blom (source Boris Braak)

Most of the local products are only a few weeks of the year available. “This really is a disadvantage for the Dutch farmers.” Mister Blom cultivates vegetables as well. “Not too much, cauliflowers only.”

Cultivation in the Netherlands is not that easy as it seems because of the climate, production costs and legislation. Some former neighbours of mister Blom have left the country and moved to warmer, southern regions such as South Africa. “One of the raspberry farmers left a few years ago. Rob van der Perk was his name. He wanted to extend his greenhouses so he could produce raspberries year-round. Unfortunately, he was not allowed to because of all the legislation, both national and international.”

Fruits and vegetables from all over the world (source Boris Braak)

Greengrocer mister Blom buys many of his products from the importer Van Oers Vegetables. The Dutch company has branches Morocco, Senegal and Ethiopia. They are specialised in the cultivation, sales, packaging and distribution of vegetables.

Van Oers Vegetables
Van Oers Vegetables is market leader in the cultivation and sales of French beans in the Benelux, and is a major player worldwide. ‘Why we are located in Africa? It is way much lucrative and easier to cultivate vegetables over there.’ A spokesperson of the company explains ‘There are three main reasons to establish our company in Africa. The climate, the labour costs and the legislation.’

The weather circumstances in the Netherlands are horrible for farmers. ‘Some products are available twelve weeks a year only. When we cultivate the same products abroad, we are able to harvest year-round.’ All in all, cultivating vegetables in Africa means four times more quantity.

Although the expensive transportation costs, it is lucrative cultivating outside of Europe. ‘We ship and drive most of our African products to the Netherlands. It is expensive but still worth it.’

According to Van Oers Vegetables, the transportation from Africa to Europe is not that harmful to the environment as I might think. ‘The University of Manchester did some research on this topic. They found out importing fruit and vegetables from Africa or Latin America is more sustainable than cultivating the same products in our own country with complicated heating systems.’

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Review of a public space

March 23, 2010 at 5:02 pm (The City)

The Leidseplein – A World of Its Own

The Leidseplein is one of the most popular squares in Amsterdam. It is right in the middle of all the action. The square and the surrounding streets are full of bars, restaurants, hotels, theatres and coffeeshops.  The Leidseplein never sleeps.

The square is situated on the crossroads of the Weteringschans, Marnixstraat, and Leidsestraat. It really is central to everything which makes the square an important link in the public transport system of Amsterdam. It is just a short tram ride from Central Station or to anyplace else in the city, since many trams and buses pass through it 24 hours a day.

The intensity of the square has not always been like it is nowadays. The surface of the Leidseplein was smaller in the 18th century. A big town-gate and canals were the boarders of the square. Trading goods was the main reason to use the Leidseplein. One thing which didn’t change was the municipal theatre. It has been on the square ever since the year of 1774.

People with different interests enjoy being at the Leidseplein. Anyone looking for culture should visit the municipal theatre ‘Stadsschouwburg’ or the English-language comedy group Boom Chicago.  Backpackers with a lack of cultural interest would probably prefer the famous coffeeshop Bulldog or one of the several bars at the Leidseplein. Close by the square are several rock music venues like Paradiso, Melkweg and Hardrock Cafe Amsterdam.

                                     Watch my movie which I made at the Leidseplein

The Leidseplein is famous for its football history as well. The city’s club Ajax celebrated many trophies at the balcony of the municipal theatre. Many Dutch fans from all over the country paid a visit to the square to see their favorite team celebrating another prize. The last time, by the year of 2006, the honoring went terribly wrong. Hundreds of drunken hooligans destroyed the square and its surrounding streets. The mayor of Amsterdam decided afterwards to prohibit future Ajax celebrations at the Leidseplein.

Whether it is summer or winter, the atmosphere is great at the Leidseplein. The area seems to be most popular with tourists and other visitors because of all the action. The Amsterdam citizens prefer quieter neighbourhoods for their drinks and shopping.

There are so many different ethnicities of people all in one area. You see several different cultures combined. The restaurants offer Argentinean, Indonesian and Italian food. Most of the bar names are in English to attract foreigners. The street performers come from all over Europe to show their skills and make some money out of it.

Looking at all those people makes me feel philosophical. Why don’t we all celebrate our daily lives together? What is more beautiful then different people from several ethnicities having fun together? I wish it could always be like this. The Leidseplein really is a world of its own.

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