(Photo: Diana Polekhina/Unsplash)

Delta republished an investigative article about the lack of social safety at the Innovation and Impact Centre today. It was originally published on 15 April but the Editorial Office, under protest, removed it later that day. Saskia Bonger, Editor in Chief, explains the backgrounds behind the republishing in this article. Everything associated with it is highly unusual. This also goes for the explanation that, as an exception, is more personal in tone. But this is unavoidable if you yourself are part of the news.

The article, entitled How duty of silence led to fear among I&IC staff and breach of trust with rector is republished where it belongs: on the Delta website with the original publication date of 15 April 2024. There are several reasons why it took two months before we could put our own article online again.

First, the events in chronological order.

On 1 March 2024, the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board presented the report of the Inspectorate of Education on mismanagement at TU Delft regarding the care of employees. From that day on, Delta wrote about it regularly, which led people to start reporting their experiences with undesirable behaviour on the work floor.

One of those stories comes to us from different sources and turns out to be in full swing at that time. They concern the Innovation & Impact Centre (I&IC), where there is much despair among the 170 employees about how TU Delft treats them. Their Director disappeared a couple of months before, while he had just been appointed, but no explanation was given.

Anyone wishing to know the situation, can read the article.


After much research, Delta published the article about the I&IC at 11:48 AM on 15 April. Within half an hour, the Director sent us a summons, followed by another one from his lawyer. The Delta article stated the name of the Director, as media does for people in relevant positions of responsibility. The lawyer’s summons stated: the article must go offline, and if not, Delta and I, as the Editor in Chief, will be held liable for any damages incurred by the Director. Various ultamatums were issued that afternoon. In the meantime, the lawyer demanded that the name of, and any suggestions pointing to, the Director be deleted from the article.

Under this level of pressure, Delta sought legal advice. But there was too little time and the information we received was inconclusive. This issue was a battle between the right to privacy on the one hand and the societal interest of stating names on the other. While some jurisprudence clauses say that you may name names, you have no guarantees. So our conclusion was to remove the name.

Confidential document

For the Editorial Office and the Editorial Board – the governing body of Delta – removing the name ended the story. But then the Legal Services Department at TU Delft got involved. They issued their own summons to me at 2:50 PM. If the article was not taken offline by 5:00 PM, TU Delft would claim any damages from me personally as the Editor in Chief.

The Legal Services said that there was something very wrong in the article which was that Delta cites qualifications from a confidential document, which TU Delft employees are not permitted to do. We now know that there is at least one exception to this rule and that is if you are a journalist and you can fully justify why you did so. The Legal Services apparently did not know this on 15 April. The only thing that we knew at the time is that we received several emails from people threatening us with legal action, including one from our own employer.

No guarantees

These events led to the Editorial Office and the Editorial Board seeing no other option, despite extensive consultation behind the scenes. On 15 April, many people saw how detrimental and damaging it is to censor a well-researched journalism article, but the countless telephone calls did not lead to a solution. Not even when it appeared that, over the course of the evening, the Executive Board did want the article online.

But the Executive Board did not give any guarantees that it would not claim any damages nor that it would support Delta out of principle. Delta thus had little choice but to take the article offline around 8:00 PM and issue an explanation.

Close examination

This evoked an immediate storm of protest. This was hardly surprising as TU Delft had been subject to close examination for six weeks on the grounds of a lack of social safety. This is very painfully illustrated by being threatened by our own Legal Services Department. We could share the clear injustice that was done to us with the outside world. Most TU Delft colleagues can only fight and then either give in or withdraw. Our email inbox is full of examples.

After heavy criticism from university newspapers, trade unions and the national media, the Executive Board offered its apologies to Delta and to all TU Delft employees on 16 April. In an online statement, Rector Magnificus Tim van der Hagen said that Delta’s Editorial Office ‘must be able to operate as independent journalists in a safe working environment’. ‘Delta is an independent journalistic medium. That they follow us critically is not always pleasant, but it is good and necessary. And it should stay that way.’

But despite these statements, it was premature to put the article back online as the guarantees and unconditional support that we asked for were still not given. We needed these so that we know for certain that we will not receive any damages claims from TU Delft.

Legal advice

To get through this impasse, one week later, Delta’s Editorial Board and the Executive Board agreed to seek independent legal advice that wouldweigh up the right of press freedom against the right to confidentiality of employees.

The report by the Kennedy Van der Laan legal firm was ready on 28 May. Its main conclusion was that republication could and can be defended by law. Kennedy Van der Laan also issued some advice that we followed and that is now included under the article of 15 April.

Why did it take until 24 June to republish? The primary reason is quite mundane. Since the Inspectorate of Education’s report was published, we have been working overtime to report on everything connected to it as well and as thoroughly as we can. Apart from this, a lot of things are happening that need our journalistic attention. We simply did not have the time to think about this accompanying article, write it, have it read by lawyers and submit it for rebuttal.

Complicated work circumstances

And finally, a personal note. Many people have asked the Editorial Office, and me personally, how we are doing. Good, luckily. We are still highly motivated to deliver sound journalistic work and to continue with truth-finding. This is partly because of all the support that we have received from colleagues, other journalists that have bestowed two awards on us, Members of Parliament and even the outgoing Minister of Education.

So we will continue as usual. This sounds easy, but that is far from the truth. We still have to deal with complicated working situations every day as information is hard to obtain, there is still often a lack of transparency, and because colleagues cast doubts on our personal integrity and methodology. We hear the following: ‘Delta is not collegial. Delta never reports enjoyable or good-to-know things. You do not ask relevant questions. You go into far too much detail. Your method of working has never been seen before. You guys are using ad hominem attacks. You are very critical.’


Like everybody, we too make mistakes. But we try to do our work carefully, building in time for checks and double checks and for adversarial procedures. This brings me to the most difficult point to understand regarding the I&IC article. Why did no one at TU Delft who I approached on Friday for a different perspective phone me or the Editorial Board before the article went online?

I sent them all my findings at about 7:00 AM on that day. That morning, the spokesperson said that they would respond that day. And would the response be an empty statement? No, I would get real answers. But I did get a statement. And that while the name of the Director and the qualifications from the confidential document were all given in the mail with questions that I had sent.

Why did they wait until after publication to issue summons when we might have been able to make soms arrangements before publication?

Openness and trust

This kind of consultation would have required some openness and trust, but grant us those. We have proven often enough that it is possible. As examples: we read the Inspectorate report under strict embargo one day before it was published on 1 March; we have our interviews checked for factual errors; we regularly wait till news is shared with relevant employees on the intranet before publishing; we had countless consultations behind the scenes for our award-winning series of articles about China; and so on. Anyone doing all this must support TU Delft warmly.

Anyone who has read up to this point, must also support Delta warmly. Thank you for the often moving support over the last few months. Thank you for the trust that you have in us. We will do our best every day to continue to earn that trust.

Editor in chief Saskia Bonger

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