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22 April, 2011 - 10:43

Press Review Friday 22 April 2011

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SMS texting is a thing of the past, and telecom company KPN employees are paying the price. The justice minister wants cut-price police, but his own law-and-order party think his idea is “ridiculous”. Two Orthodox Protestant MPs are enough to stop the Dutch shopping on Sundays. Rejected asylum seekers survive a tough detention regime by guzzling anti-depressants. And sniffer dogs get the sack because their handlers have been fiddling the evidence.

Chat apps pack Dutch jobs off to India
SMS texting? So passé. And if you’re still actually using your mobile phone to call people, you’re pretty old-school. That’s the tech fashion message all over this morning’s Dutch press. Because new-style mobile communication is costing 5000 employees at telecom company KPN their jobs.

In its glory days KPN was a state-owned monopoly. If you wanted to make a phone call, it was your only option. But those days are long over. Now the company’s being forced sack a quarter of its staff in the latest of many rounds of redundancies.

The company’s problem, the dailies enjoy pointing out, is that nowadays everyone’s using their smart phones to chat for nothing with apps like WhatsApp or – king among teenagers – Blackberry’s PingChat. Or they email or Facebook each other. And if they do actually want to talk, they’ll do it free of charge using a VoIP service.

As a result, the grand old lady of Dutch telecommunications is losing a fortune. So the company is struggling to catch up with the times – gearing its mobile subscriptions towards internet and ‘offshoring’ it’s workers to India.

Minister booed for cut-price-police plan
The justice minister wants to save 30 million euros by replacing 10,000 police with ‘supervisors’ – downgraded officers with less training and fewer powers. It’s a prime front page story for popular dailies AD and De Telegraaf.

The minister’s plan has been promptly “booed off” by his own party, the conservative VVD, De Telegraaf reports. “Ridiculous,” AD quotes one VVD MP. “Law and order is this cabinet’s priority number one. We’re not going to create a ‘police light’”. And Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, the coalition’s partner in parliament, also slammed the idea. “A bad plan,” said Mr Wilders, with uncharacteristic understatement.

In fact, the story is squashed to one side on De Telegraaf’s front page by a reprise of a crime blockbuster. Underworld boss Stanley Hillis was shot while police observers looked on. They didn’t catch the hit men, but apparently they did manage to get the whole murder on video. Surely a job that ‘supervisors’ could have done just as well?

Tiny Christian party blocks Sunday shopping
A government plan to extend Sunday shopping is to be scrapped because the Orthodox Protestant SGP party is against it, AD reports. The Christian party holds just two seats in the 150-seat parliament.

Dutch shops are only allowed to open on the Sabbath on a limited number of Sundays a year. The prime minister’s free-market VVD wants to lift the restrictions. And Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, on which the government relies for support in Parliament, is all in favour of Sunday shopping.

But the Freedom Party has agreed to vote against a law change to please the tiny SGP, AD explains. Because the government looks set to end up a couple of seats short of a majority in the Upper House, it’s going to need the SGP’s support. The Sunday shopping deal is a way to keep the SGP sweet.

So even though the vast majority of MPs think people should be allowed to go shopping whenever they like, it’s not going to happen. Such is Dutch democracy.

“Slow death” for rejected asylum seekers
A man stands on a roof, a wire noose around his neck, the other end of the wire tied to a chimney. It’s a photo in de Volkskrant of a protesting asylum seeker at a detention centre in Australia, where rioting has broken out.

NRC Handelsblad has a more subtly chilling photo – a pile of ashes on Amsterdam’s Dam Square, on the spot where an Iranian asylum seeker set himself on fire earlier this month.

The NRC reporter visited rejected Iranian asylum seeker Fariborz Panahi in the Kamp Zeist detention centre. “For illegal aliens the regime is tougher than for criminals,” says nrc.next. Inmates are only allowed a one-hour visit a week, and an hour’s exercise a day. Anti-depressants are “handed out like sweets”.

Panahi knew the man who committed suicide on the Dam. Return to Iran simply wasn’t an option for him, he says. It would have meant certain arrest and execution. “In Iran they kill you straight away,” Panahi tells the paper. “This is a slow death.”

Dog detectives sacked
More redundancies – this time it’s sniffer dogs. From now on, the “scent test” will no longer be admissible as evidence in court. It’s de Volkskrant’s front page story.

In the test, dogs would sniff a murder weapon, for example, then pick out a corresponding scent from an identity parade. But based on sniffer dog evidence, a man was wrongly convicted in the ‘Deventer murder’ in 2003.

An investigation found that dog handlers have been influencing the results. None of them are going to be prosecuted because it’s too hard to prove. But the statistics are unquestionable – somehow they’ve been fiddling the evidence. And the dogs are out of a job.