Bullying has been part of children’s lives for a long time. But the recent trend of cyber-bullying with some resorting to suicide has sparked concern in Dutch society more than ever. The theme was recently picked up on by television broadcasters – both public and commercial. As the public broadcaster hosted an ‘anti-bullying night’, focusing on cyber-bullying, the commercial broadcaster’s show caused major controversy, even before the airing of the first episode.
‘Project P: Stop het pesten’ (Pesten is Dutch for bullying) provides high school victims of bullying with a hidden camera, in order to show the severity of what they are exposed to in school. It is expected that the footage will be used to confront the bullies at a later stage in order to make them realise the severity of their actions. Three high schools protested against hidden camera footage shot on their territory being used, while controversy about the programme emerged before the first episode airs later this month. The three schools argue that the hidden cameras violate their students’ privacy. This argument was dismissed by a number of Dutch celebrities and public figures, victims of bullying themselves in their youth – they argue that the bullies’ acts are too severe to protect their privacy. The debate has proven sensitive, as many victims of bullying still feel the effects years after the bullying stopped.
Project P is RTL Nederland’s second programme on bullying in a few years. The broadcaster started its other show, Gepest (Bullied), a few years ago. The show focused on adults who had been bullied in the past – usually, during high school. As the victims told their stories, the show built up to the climax: would the bullies agree to a confrontation, and how would this go down? Usually, the victims were looking for some recognition and some answers – and perhaps even a chance to forgive the bullies. Since Gepest focused on past bullying and centered around adults, there was no reason for widespread controversy. RTL’s new show on the other hand aims at tackling the problem as it unfolds.
RTL Nederland claims it has only good intentions – confronting the bullies might help change or even end their behavior and create a saver environment for the bullied children. But critics argue that the way bullying is dealt with in this show, does not do justice to the complexity of the problem – and it remains to be seen if the show renders the desired effect.
Since the broadcaster made no promise of leaving the hidden camera footage out of its shows, one of the schools went to court, claiming the footage is sensationalist. Experts seem to agree, and argue that it is not sure whether the bullies will end their behavior after being confronted with their actions. Even if they will render a positive effect, experts argue that it is debatable if the improvement will last. The experts’ concerns are underlined by recent claims of bullying increasing instead of decreasing because of the programme: one of the victims claims he has suffered even more from his bullies than before RTL tried to stop the actions of his fellow students.
As the airing of the first episode approaches shortly after Easter, the court ruling is still pending. Despite criticism of their methods, RTL’s producers can be happy about one thing – they’ve rekindled the debate about bullying once again.
By Lisanne Oldekamp
Photo credit: Fabio Bruna