On this page, a look will be taken at the press coverage regarding the Plough forgery cases. It will become clear that, although the press was quick to react and the coverage was extensive, the coverage lacked in depth. The reasons for this will be discussed and a general analysis of the role of the press will be given. At the bottom of the page, a fully accessible overview of all published news articles will be available.
The press was on the Altink forgery cases from the very start. The first article on the subject was published on the 25th of May 1991, in Nieuwsblad van het Noorden. Only four days later, several newspapers had already identified the Van L. couple as the possible culprits. In the year leading up to the arrest of Cor Van L., several articles were published further exploring the forgeries and Van L.’s alleged role. After the arrest of Van L., it was quickly reported in several news outlets that a raid had taken place and that paintings had been confiscated by the Justice Department. There were also reports on the arrest of Van L.
During the Altink I trial, the media extensively reported on its developments. To understand the vital role the media can play in combating forgeries, one must think of this case as exemplary in this regard. The trial went horribly wrong, and the media were extremely critical of the Justice Department and the many mistakes that were made. The best article was written by Renée Smithuis, the expert witness of the trial. The most important conclusion she draws is that, although the criminal case was dropped, that does not mean the works are in fact authentic, which Van L. claimed in several newspaper articles. It’s important to realize here that proving fraud and forgery is something different from proving authenticity. Although the reporting on the trial was quite extensive, this is the trend that can be seen in these articles. The highly specialized nature of the case concerning both art and law proved to be a challenge for the average journalist. As a result, the news, although providing a good coverage of the events, at times oversimplified the facts, misstated them slightly, or relied too much on hearsay. The Altink I trial coverage showed a clear lack of thorough research from journalists, most likely due to lack of documentation and expertise. The lack of documentation shows in the way the articles were written: they rely on previously mentioned hearsay, and not on the documentation of the court itself. Because of this, vital information was lost.
A journalist who, however, does deserve credit for identifying the shady nature of Van L., is his later biographer: Hendrik Jan Korterink (see Forger). Korterink quickly realized that the biography of Van L. was nothing more than a pamphlet for Van L., and not a work of critical journalism. Years later, Korterink even published a short overview of the Altink II Affair on his website, titled Valse Streken (False Practices).
After the trial and the article 12 procedures were concluded, it was relatively quiet in the media regarding the Plough forgeries. At the start of 2000, however, the number of publications on the subject grew as a consequence of the Altink II civil procedures, and the events leading up to them. The problems concerning the reporting on the Altink I Affair persist throughout the second affair as well. One major difference is, however, the press taking a more aggressive stance towards Van L. While during the Altink I Affair he was perceived to be genuinely innocent by some of the news outlets, during the Altink II Affair this view clearly changed. It is surprising that despite this critical disposition, no in-depth research articles were published on the Plough forgeries.
Although the press had been quick to react to the Plough forgery cases and both Altink cases, their reaction lacked in-depth knowledge and coverage. This was largely due to the highly specialized area of expertise that lay at the foundation of this case. The fact that it was not a run of the mill criminal case made the reporting more challenging. Another reason is that no court documentation was used/available, and the journalists thus had to rely on hearsay and incomplete sources.
*Where able translations of the news articles are given by Google Translate. Please note that these are automated translations and therefor may contain mistakes. For the original text please consult the Dutch version of this page.
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