The Netherlands: The Television Crisis

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While the U.S. wrestles with Viet Nam, the Kremlin with the troublesome issue of Communist unity around the world, and Malaysia with Indonesian aggression, the Dutch these days are somewhat embarrassed to find themselves in the midst of a government crisis over commercial television.

In The Netherlands, no issue is trivial if a principle is involved, and as Amsterdam's Algemeen Handelsblad observed in its best burgher manner, the broadcasting controversy "concerns fundamental rights and principles, and one cannot compromise in those matters."

The fundamental rights have to do with the intricate formula that for 40 years has allocated programming of radio and, more recently, television broadcasts among the five big religious and political groups in Holland: the Catholics, the Conservative Protestants, the Liberal Protestants, and the political Liberal and Labor parties. Ever since he took office 19 months ago, Prime Minister Victor Marijnen has sought a way to admit advertising to The Netherlands' two TV channels. The idea of commercial television sounded fine to most viewers, and Dutch businessmen were becoming increasingly insistent. But some elements within the five big groups rejected every proposed scheme since it would steal air time and disrupt the time-tested formula.

Finally, last month determined advertisers lined up the Liberal members in Marijnen's Cabinet, and brought to a stalemate the issue of whether the new commercial programmers would be independent or be forced to collaborate with the traditional groups. Marijnen threw up his hands, and presented the resignation of his government to Queen Juliana, explaining, "I never knew that television was such a difficult business."

Last week the Queen journeyed from Soestdijk Palace to the little Huis Ten Bosch Palace outside The Hague to consult with the leaders of The Netherlands' fiercely independent factions on how to put together a new government. After interrupting her talks for a visit to the dentist, she finally picked Catholic Parliamentarian Norbert Schmelzer, 43, as her informaleur—the man who, under Dutch practice, is empowered to look for the man who might be able to form a new Cabinet. Forming Marijnen's own coalition Cabinet in 1963 took 70 days of agonized negotiation in jealously pluralistic little Holland, and the Dutch, who are used to long periods of nongovernment when a principle is at stake, were settling down before their TV screens at week's end for a long and quiet crisis.