Opinion: Everything is fit to print

POSTED: 01/12/12 3:50 PM

We hear that Freedom Party Senator Peter van Dijk was rather upset that we quoted his position yesterday that his party would “love to get rid of these islands.” Van Dijk said, or so we hear, that he did not realize he was being interviewed.

This is how we opened our conversation with Van Dijk on Tuesday: “So what do you think about this pirate’s nest?”

This was a reference to the well-known Hero Brinkman rant about the Netherlands Antilles. Van Dijk answered: “You’re attempting to elicit a statement from me.”

Ha, he got that right! Journalists ask questions all the time and the answer could be meaningless, or it could be an interesting statement.

So we admitted to Van Dijk: yes, we are attempting to elicit a statement. Big deal we thought, since this is what we do every day of the week.

Van Dijk knew therefore darn well that he was talking to a journalist. Politicians are free to say what they want, but they are also free not to talk to the media. But Van Dijk had no problem carrying on the conversation. He also made a valid point saying that integrity ought to come before anything else. We liked that.

His statement that “we” (meaning the Freedom Party) would love to get rid of these islands we would have expected Van Dijk to be happy seeing his opinion in a local newspaper before he got upset about it.

At the same time we know the rules of the game. If, and we say if, a politician or anyone for that matter wants to speak to us off the record, we go off the record. That means we will never use this information in a way that could backfire on our source. Politicians are very much in the public domain and they use journalists for their own agenda like normal people use oxygen to stay alive. And unless they ask to go off the record, everything they say is fit to print.

Therefore, the tendency to protect politicians against themselves ought to be non-existent among journalists. We never even thought twice about using Van Dijk’s statements. The way we understand it, he is not upset about the content of his statements but about the fact that they appeared in our newspaper.

But we’re not among the Neanderthals that populate certain web sites, so we’d be happy to offer Senator Van Dijk an opportunity to speak with us off the record and we promise we won’t write a word about it. On the other hand: is that useful or just a waste of time?

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