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No more free tickets for journalists after personal attack. Rightful action or unwanted harassment?

 "Jazzenzo no longer welcome at venues and festivals", states the online jazz magazine Jazzenzo. It was prompted by a letter the medium received from BIM House on 24 April. In that letter, co-signed by an impressive number of prestigious venues and festivals such as TivoliVredenburg and North Sea Jazz, the BIM House informs that it will no longer grant free tickets to the magazine's unpaid reporters: "Following the - in our view - umpteenth unbecoming publication on the website Jazzenzo.nl, we and a number of Dutch jazz venues and festivals have decided to stop granting press passes to the online magazine Jazzenzo."

This looks familiar. In 2018, Olivier Keegel, an opera critic with rather strong views on National Opera director Pierre Audi, received a similar letter from the Opera. Keegel considered this a boycott and attack on press freedom. He dragged the multimillion-dollar company to court, but was not vindicated. 

349 euros

The judge did not consider the fact that Keegel would henceforth have to pay for his own ticket to be a restriction of the right to free news gathering. That is true, although with ticket prices that can reach €173.50, one can question that degree of freedom. After all: journalists are not among the best paid group of self-employed people. Unsubtle criticism thus becomes the right of a small, wealthy elite.

Tickets for jazz are usually less expensive, although as of now Jazzenzo has to pay 350 euros for three days of North Sea Jazz in Rotterdam. Rather unaffordable for those who write for a website as small freelancers. 

And even though the rich versus poor argument counts less here, what is difficult about the latest writing from all those jazz venues and festivals to Jazzenzo is the massiveness of the complaint. It is now as if the whole sector is turning against Jazzenzo. That must not feel comfortable. 

Then let's see exactly how annoying that medium is. According to the letter-writing venues, Jazzenzo does play to the man/woman:  "...The deliberate belittling of people and playing on the person as often happens in publications on Jazzenzo we find inappropriate and furthermore does our beloved jazz sector anything but good. [...]Specific individuals and organisations are regularly attacked in publications on Jazzenzo in a way that has nothing to do with the content."

Frightened rabbit

We here at Culture Press are not regular readers of Jazzenzo, but a first glance at the site mainly shows a warm heart for improvising jazz by generally people who have been around a bit longer. The only place where there is a visible furore is in a column by Cyriel Pluimakers, in which he complains that the old guard of improvising music plays too small a role in the BIM house's upcoming anniversary party. In that piece, director Mijke Loeven and programmer Frank van Berkel in particular have to take the rap. Van Berkel is called "a scared rabbit", which can still be seen as a joke, but Mijke Loeven is personally attacked, as in this passage: "Loeven also moonlights as a presenter and consultant. "People like me now," is her motto. And yes, since her ascent up the cultural ladder, her diction has become increasingly regal." 

Indeed, in the context of the story, the attack on the BIM director comes rather out of the blue. The qualifications against her also have little to do with the rest of the story's content. 

However, the letter from venues and festivals is also out of line: "All in all, it seems that Jazzenzo does not take the code of journalism seriously and we no longer want to contribute to that. Therefore, we will no longer make press cards available for Jazzenzo for the time being."

Bordeaux code

This is a solid twist, especially since the company of complainants also cites the 'code of journalism'. This gives the writing an unnecessarily legal tone. The code of journalism, by which the writers are probably referring to the 'Code of Bordeaux' which this site also subscribes to, after all, makes an exception for opinion articles, such as columns. Moreover, we can point to a few major media outlets that employ people who do not shy away from the personal attack. Question is whether those also get such letters

Of course, any cultural institution is free to give or refuse free tickets to people from the press; that does not interfere with freedom of newsgathering. Whether in doing so you should use such high words to end an existing relationship? Then it starts to look like unwanted pressure, which moreover leads to a chilling effect at other small media outlets. Will they dare write another solid critical piece next time, knowing that it could be the end of the site, which can only do its job with free tickets?

Or will unsophisticated art criticism become a privilege for the rich? 

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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