Geert Wilders forced to withdraw sabotage claim
Plans to broadcast cartoons caricaturing Muhammad on Dutch TV did not go ahead
Geert Wilders: When the cartoons did not appear on TV, Wilders reacted on Twitter, accusing NOS of “sabotage”, adding that the cartoons had been posted on YouTube. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA
Controversial anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders has been forced to withdraw an accusation of “sabotage” against the Dutch broadcasting association, NOS, after his plans to air cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad on national TV were scuppered at the weekend.
The cartoons were due to be broadcast in a short party political slot reserved for Mr Wilders’ Freedom Party at lunchtime on Saturday. However, with the country on tenterhooks, they never appeared – and an old Freedom Party item on immigration was inexplicably shown instead.
A furious Mr Wilders reacted immediately on Twitter, accusing NOS of “sabotage”, adding that the cartoons had been posted immediately on YouTube and would be shown on Wednesday as scheduled “if I have to travel to Hilversum [the home of Dutch broadcasting] myself to ensure it”.
The Netherlands has a complex broadcasting system, with eight separate organisations licensed to broadcast – and it took some hours before it became clear that control of the party political slots lay with the Dutch Foundation for Public Broadcasting, NPO.
A somewhat chastened Mr Wilders then tweeted: “I have just spoken to NPO director, Henk Hagoort. It seems to have been a misunderstanding . . .”
The reason for the Freedom Party leader’s sudden softening of attitude became clear when it turned out that NPO had received the wrong recording from content creators, Infostrada, who finally issued a brief statement saying, “It was a case of human error. We are very sorry.”
Three dates during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan were originally planned for the broadcasts, June 20th, June 24th and July 3rd – after Mr Wilders was refused permission to exhibit the cartoons in the grounds of parliament in The Hague.
Muslim organisations, many of whom accuse Mr Wilders of staging “a crusade against Islam”, have been delighted at the collapse of his first attempt. “Everyone is very busy with Ramadan – and so he is simply being ignored,” said Aissa Zanzen of the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands. “Even if the cartoons had been broadcast, absolutely nothing would have happened.”
There has been contact between the government and Muslim groups in a bid to dampen reaction with the prime minister tweeting on Thursday: “Best wishes to the Netherlands’ one million Muslims for a bounteous Ramadan.”