The creator of reality TV shows including The Voice and Big Brother has been accused of victim-blaming by his company’s female employees after accusations of widespread sexual abuse of contestants on the original Dutch version of The Voice.
In a full-page advert in the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, a group of employees at the production company Talpa Media castigated its founder, John De Mol, for suggesting that women as well as men had lessons to learn from a scandal that has gripped the country this week and prompted the broadcaster RTL to take Friday’s episode of The Voice of Holland off air.
Following a deluge of allegations of abuse made against men on the show, De Mol, 66, said in an interview: “Do not wait. Do not be afraid. You have to open your mouth. Only then can we help you … Women apparently have a kind of shame, I don’t know what it is, but I would like to delve into it.”
In response, an advert was published in Friday’s newspaper that said: “Dear John, it’s not the women. Greetings, the women of your company.”
In an accompanying statement the group of employees wrote of their “amazement and shame” at De Mol’s comments. It “says a lot about a culture change that is needed within the company, but also in the media world and society,” the statement continued. “And certainly at more large companies where these kinds of thinking errors are still made by men in power.
“Women’s behaviour is not the problem. And not the solution either. This statement is of course also for all other victims of sexually transgressive behaviour in the workplace (not just at Talpa), to encourage them.”
On Friday night, De Mol said he had been “moved” by the advert and had spoken to the women behind it to “understand this anger and disappointment”. He added: “I now understand that, contrary to my good intentions, I have failed to take into account the fact that I, completely unintentionally, gave the impression that I was putting the blame on women. It has become clear to me now that women will not come forward if the culture in a company is not perceived as being sufficiently safe. I blame myself for the fact that this is apparently the case in my company, and I am 100% committed to changing this.”
Talpa Media is run by De Mol but has been owned by ITV since 2015.
The Voice of Holland was suspended before Thursday’s broadcast of a documentary on the YouTube channel Boos, which translates as “angry”, and is run by the public broadcasting company BNNVARA. In the documentary, dozens of anonymous women alleged that high-profile men on The Voice had sexually harassed, abused and assaulted them.
A spokesperson for ITV Studios said the company was “shocked and dismayed” by the allegations but declined to comment on De Mol’s interview. She said: “Our utmost priority is to provide a safe and supportive environment for everyone who takes part in or works on our shows and there is zero tolerance at ITV Studios for the type of behaviour highlighted in the show.
“After ITV Studios received notice from Boos of this behaviour last week we moved quickly to launch an external investigation to fully understand what happened.”
The rapper Ali Bouali, 40, a coach on the show who goes by the name Ali B, was accused by one former contestant of raping her when she appeared on the programme as an 18-year-old hopeful.
In a statement, he responded: “There are now two anonymous reports that are presented with a lot of fury as news. That is unjustified. I cannot publicly defend myself against this. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that the Public Prosecution Service will in both cases have to decide to dismiss [the allegations]. I am not guilty of what I am accused of in the claims.”
Before the broadcast of the allegations, Jeroen Rietbergen, 50, the show’s bandleader, stood down after admitting to having had “sexual contact” with women on the show and sending sexually oriented messages on an app. Rietbergen, until recently the partner of De Mol’s sister, the TV presenter Linda de Mol, said he was not aware of wrongdoing at the time of the alleged incidents.
Six other women have made complaints about the singer Marco Borsato, three of them contestants on The Voice and three on The Voice Kids. Borasto denies any wrongdoing.
De Mol, who initially made his fortune through development of the reality television series Big Brother, spoke of his disappointment that the HR procedures in his company had not protected the contestants.
ITV bought Talpa Media seven years ago for £355m, with further payments dependent on future performance, up to a total potential cost of £920,000.
The company has created 75 shows in more than 180 countries. The Voice format, in which singers are selected via public auditions and then coached by professionals before a competition for a recording contract, has been aired in 50 countries.
Anouk Teeuwe, a female singer who represented the Netherlands at the Eurovision song contest in 2013, said she had quit as a coach on the programme.
“The news is so saddening and a major disappointment,” she said. “I know enough. I’ve decided I don’t want to return to The Voice. It’s a corrupt mess. I don’t want to work at a place where men have, for years, abused their positions and where others have chosen to keep the misconduct silent and look the other way.
“You just can’t do that. You’ve got structural issues when you do that. I do not wish to be part of such behaviour, that’s just not me. So therefore, I will not return to The Voice of Holland.”