Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
Retired Maastricht professor Knottnerus: “Poor workmanship”
MAASTRICHT. Two Maastricht professors were unjustly accused of ‘dishonest’ behaviour in the television broadcast Rambam in January. They were portrayed as scientists who could be bought. BNNVARA eats humble pie now that they have reviewed the raw journalistic footage together with a delegation from Maastricht University. The broadcasting company regrets that the cutting-and-pasting has created an incorrect image.
Retired professor André Knottnerus, chairman of the Maastricht delegation, characterised Rambam's method of work as “poor workmanship”.
In the BNNVARA broadcast on 24 January, the hunt is on for nutrition scientists. To what extent are they prepared to provide positive research results in exchange for money? The subject of the undercover operation was a Chinese energy drink that needed to be marketed. The two Maastricht professors Rob Markus (Neuropsychology) and Fred Brouns (Health Food Innovation) appeared to be willing to work with the industry and provide them with positive research results. Knottnerus now concludes, however, that the Maastricht researchers are blameless. There is no reason to doubt “the good intentions and the integrity of both UM professors,” Maastricht University wrote in its statement last week after the full uncut version had been viewed. Upon which BNNVARA made a public apology. “During the production process, more specifically in the analysis of the discussions with professors Brouns and Markus, the creators should have been more careful,” the spokesperson for the broadcasting company, said.
The scientists themselves, supported by rector Rianne Letschert, have always maintained that Rambam had been guilty of cutting-and-pasting; fragments were taken out of context.
The fact that the broadcasting and production company nevertheless decided to share the raw journalistic footage with the UM, is remarkable. At first they were adamant that nobody, neither Observant nor the Executive Board, was allowed to see the whole tape, they stated repeatedly in e-mails. An exception was made for Amsterdam emeritus professor of Nutrition Martijn Katan, who was also in the programme on 24 January. He concluded after seeing the uncut version that Rambam had done a decent job: “The statements broadcasted essentially portrayed the gist of what Rob Markus said at various times during the discussion.” He is now sticking to his point of view. Katan: “I know André Knottnerus and respect him very much; we should discuss why we came to such diverse conclusions. By the way, it is a pity that the UM didn't consult experts from outside Maastricht for this matter. That would be more convincing for outsiders than someone from their own ranks.” Rector Letschert finds the suggestion that professor Knottnerus would not be independent “quite incomprehensible with a view to his excellent reputation and long track record.” Knottnerus is the former chairman of the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, former chairman of the National Health Council and emeritus professor of General Practice Medicine at Maastricht University.
The Executive Board is considering whether to take further steps. This could mean going to court or probably submitting a complaint to the Press Council; a decision will be taken in the next few days.
This is the second time, by the way, that BNNVARA has had to grovel. Around the same time last year, the broadcasting company offered its apologies for a programme about hazing. The programme makers had suggested that a student from Utrecht had lied. In this case too, a hidden camera had been used.