In this letter I would like to take a position on the Bart De Pauw trial.
Although the very first draft of this text dates back to June 2020, I have chosen to make my position known only now, for two reasons. First and foremost, there was the need for serenity. When the whole thing got rolling at the end of 2017, a lot was written and aired in newspapers, opinion pieces and on social media. The loudest shouts were often made by those least aware of what had happened, which inevitably degenerated into a bitter positional warfare that flared up polemics. I didn’t feel like stirring it up any further, if only out of respect for those involved. Second, no one can claim that I would try to influence the verdict through the press or public opinion at this point. This text will only appear approximately at the same time as the judge’s verdict, and at the time of this writing I do not know what the verdict will be.
That’s about timing. Then the content.
I know several of the parties involved in this case well to very well. I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating on various Bart De Pauw programmes, and even after he left Woestijnvis, we sometimes kept seeing each other for a brainstorm or some feedback.
No one will deny that Bart is a legendary television producer. An exceptional talent that has provided countless hours of enjoyment to millions of viewers over the years. That’s why it was so hard for many to believe that someone who so often beamed into the living room laughing and joking on Sunday evenings was suddenly accused of repeatedly transgressive behaviour. Also for me.
Yet I now know that that is what happened. Not once, not ten times, but for years on end, with a very long list of women. And apparently also a few times under my nose, although I didn’t notice it at the time. That is why I could not tell the Mechelen police anything incriminating when they came to question me as a witness. What really upsets me is that the defense has used my testimony during the trial as an element of relief. That is like claiming that an apartment has not been broken into because the upstairs neighbor has not heard anything.
I don’t want to comment on Bart’s legal guilt or innocence. I also don’t want to go into detail about the facts. I just want to make one message very clear: the women who have sided with this cause deserve our support, and tons of respect. Because they’ve had the courage to challenge a pattern of behavior that had already wreaked havoc in the hopes of stopping it. They wanted to solve this internally, via a confidential counselor within the VRT, in all discretion and far from all media attention. Everything that happened after that, including this lawsuit, is not their responsibility.
I am now very well aware of what happened to these women. Many of their experiences are strikingly similar, some very straightforward, others more complex. But each and every one of them has suffered greatly from undesirable behavior by someone clearly above them in the hierarchy. The damage that was done is barely quantifiable, and several lives have been completely turned upside down. When the names of the women involved were also released, they were suddenly tipsy in part of the public mind, and they were punished a second time for something they had no fault of.
Many, including me, had hoped that this case would not have to end in court. If there was an insight into guilt, sincere and unconditional apologies and a recovery process, I think it is not inconceivable that Bart could already be seen on TV again in the meantime. Unfortunately, a different approach was taken, the defense has tried time and again to get the case through the media, private lives have been compromised and the women involved have been attacked until in court, forcing them a third time. were punished for a non-existent crime.
Finally, I have deliberately not used the term ‘victims’ in this text. Not because the women in question did not suffer from what happened, but because I refuse to see them that way. They are all incredibly talented people, each in their own field, and I hope our paths may cross again often. And: they are not alone, as was also apparent from the ‘line in the sand’ initiative by dozens of people from the sector earlier this year.
To conclude, I hope that this whole case – however damaging it has been – can still have positive consequences. That broad awareness can lead to a working atmosphere in which every M/F/X in the media and beyond feels sufficiently safe and supported to immediately report undesirable behavior, without fear of negative consequences on a personal or professional level.