Column: Jan van Neerven

#NotMyCvB: High-and-mighty gentlemen

Columnist Jan van Neerven champions press freedom in his first column for Delta. His inspiration comes from his father, who passionately defended this cause as Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Limburgs Dagblad’.

Jan van Neerven zit op een bruggetje

My father was Editor-in-Chief of a regional newspaper for several years early in his career. As a champion of free speech, he was outspoken: [1]

‘Just as Mr                                     unsuccessfully attempted through my chairman – even under threat of legal action – to prevent the publication of                             ,                             which is being published under my responsibility today in full, other                                      authorities have likewise unsuccessfully tried to silence me in this newspaper in the same manner. I hereby inform these high-and-mighty gentlemen that I am personally sick of their underhanded, sneaky, cowardly, dishonourable, undemocratic, and nauseating way of causing trouble, and I further give them the explicit guarantee that they will not be successful in this manner at all.’

You will understand that I recently had to think of this passage, which I was reminded of by a striking obituary in ‘Vrij Nederland’ after my father’s passing. In the opening words of the academic dissertation he later wrote, he states:

‘Providing information to citizens is a task so important for citizens within their society and for the proper functioning of that society itself, that freedom of the press is rightly elevated to a constitutional right.’

Press freedom has been enshrined in the Dutch constitution since 1815 and has long been targeted by individuals such as the reactionary journalist Izaäk Lion:

‘In the hands of evil, the printing press is the merciless sickle that cuts down all that is good in the heart of the people, and is the rake that ruthlessly eradicates the seeds of virtue, piety, enlightenment, and self-awareness.’

It is commendable that our TU Delft President has published an apology for the recent censorship of a critical article in Delta about intimidation of I&IC staff. However, the controversial article, easily found on archive websites, has still not been reinstated. This detracts from the apology. In an open letter to the TU Delft President, the Circle of Editors-in-Chief of Higher Education Media also requests that the Executive Board ‘guarantees the journalistic independence of Delta’. This independence is, however, assured in Article 3.1 of Delta’s Editorial Statutes, established by the Executive Board itself:

‘The Executive Board entrusts the editorial team with an independent position, in the belief that this promotes the quality of journalistic work and thereby serves TU Delft’s  interests.’

Finally, the Circle wants ‘the guarantee that the Editor-in-Chief remains free from personal financial claims’.

To restore trust, it must be ensured that no one is ‘threatened, insulted, humiliated, intimidated, or silenced’ when ‘divergent opinions’ are expressed or ‘new facts’ are brought forward. Such a commitment was included in the first version of the Change Plan. Unfortunately, it has now been diluted to ‘being able to fearlessly say what we think, even if we hold a different opinion’.

Think. Opinion. What about the presentation of new facts?

[1] The blacked out passages cannot be deciphered.

Jan van Neerven is an Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Professor of Mathematics at the Delft Institute of Applied Mathematics (EWI), where he heads the Analysis section. He is the author of several books in his field, received a Vidi and Vici grant from NWO, and is editor-in-chief of Indagationes Mathematicae. In 2024 he was elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Columnist Jan Van Neerven

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