In October last year, the television channel RTL stated that they will not use ‘Zwarte Piet’ or Black Pete anymore in their programs and that they won’t permit Black Pete in their commercials either. In stead, they will present ‘Pete’ with black root sweep on their face called ‘Chimney Pete’. In their statement they explain that they understand both the advocates of as the opponents of Black Pete, but that Black Pete does not fit in the current era anymore in regards to their vision. Shortly after RTL published their statement on their website and on social media, the comments on Facebook and Twitter were exploding. Publics, organizations and political leaders did react in very differing opinions. But more importantly… how did RTL react?
Can we frame ourselves neutral?
Although RTL clearly chose the party of the opponents of Black Pete by removing Black Pete from their television shows and commercials, they framed the message in a way that they tried to be as neutral as possible and said that this was not about who’s having right, but rather about understanding each other and adapting to the ideas of the time that we live in. In this case, the frame was intentionally used as a tool to promote their version of the reality (Vliegenthart & Van Zoonen, 2011). I think it was very smart to not respond so much on the built frame in which there is a ‘good’ and a ‘wrong’ party, but to change the frame to ‘understanding each other’, although I am wondering in what extent this was effective for the advocates of Black Pete as they commented that they were very disappointed and thought RTL was very cowardly by removing Black Pete, especially because they had said to keep Black Pete the year before.
The line between neutrality and unconcernedly
Even though I do not agree with RTL at all for taking out the Black Pete of their programs and commercials, I think that they handled their communication about Black Pete and their discussion to their stakeholders on social media platforms pretty well. Or at least they did what they could to my opinion.
Although the hashtag ‘#BoycotRTL arose immediately on Twitter and Facebook, RTL did stick to their choice and left the discussions on social media mostly for what it was. Although Gruber et al., (2015) state that it is very important for organizations to actively participate on social media in times of ‘crisis’, RTL had made her point very clear already and further apology was not needed as this would not contribute or match their strategy, which in this case was ‘being clear and consistent’ (Moreno, 2015). Pieter Klein, deputy chief editor, tweeted: ‘Dear supporters and opponents, good luck with the discussion! I’ve got some other things to do in life. Stay Classy’. I do understand RTL for not further participating in this discussion, although I am wondering if it was smart to sound kind of ‘unconcerned and indifferent’, which Pieter Klein did to my opinion with his last tweet. But let’s admit it: unconcernedly is not really that odd after this ongoing discussion in which there will never be a right choice, is it?
About the author:
Anne Sofie Tieman, Master student Persuasive Communication at the University of Amsterdam.