Reality television tycoon John de Mol, the creator of international hit “The Voice”, faced questions Thursday over an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse claims at the now-suspended Dutch version.
De Mol, who also created reality show Big Brother, admitted knowing about one allegation of inappropriate messages by The Voice of Holland’s bandleader as far back as 2019 but taking no action.
The billionaire, 66, said he was “in shock” to hear of further abuse claims and felt “personally responsible”, while insisting he had not “brushed it under the rug”.
Broadcaster RTL took The Voice of Holland off the air at the weekend after it was first made aware of alleged abuse, but the scandal spiralled on Thursday with a report making a raft of new accusations.
One of the show’s coaches, rapper Ali B, has been accused of rape by one contestant, said the YouTube show BOOS, which means Anger in Dutch. He denies the allegations.
Nineteen women had alleged intimidating sexual behaviour against bandleader Jeroen Rietbergen, who was the partner of de Mol’s sister Linda and has now resigned from the show, it added.
Dutch prosecutors say they have received two complaints about Ali B, while police have urged victims to contact them directly instead of a hotline set up by the show.
– ‘In shock’ –
The allegations mark a stunning fall from grace for the founding version of a show whose format — coaches in swivelling chairs pick contestants after listening to them sing “blind” — has been sold to 150 countries.
Entertainment mogul de Mol, whose hits also include Deal or No Deal and Fear Factor, told BOOS that staff had told him in April 2019 about an allegation by a contestant that Rietbergen had sent her inappropriate WhatsApp messages.
De Mol said he was “furious” with the bandleader, called him to his office and “had to restrain myself from hitting him the mouth”.
But he said he had not taken any further action because it was a single allegation about text messages and he had worked well with him for 11 years.
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” he said,
But the scale of the new allegations had left him “in shock”.
“I feel absolutely responsible. That doesn’t mean I’ve seen it and brushed it under the rug (…) people have been hurt, there are victims and the interests of those people come first,” he said.
– ‘Terrible nightmare’ –
A shamed Rietbergen, 50, quit The Voice at the weekend in a statement that admitted “contact of a sexual nature with women involved in the programme and sexually inclined WhatsApp messages”.
Rietbergen said he initially thought he had not abused his position of power but had since realised that “my own perception is not at all relevant, but much more the perception of the women concerned.”
His partner, television presenter Linda de Mol, said this week that she had left him and would stop working due to the “terrible nightmare”.
Meanwhile The Voice contestant allegedly raped by Ali B told BOOS in a distorted voice that the attack happened eight years ago, when he started kissing her after showing her around the studio.
“I felt that he was so powerful that I thought: what you want must happen now,” she said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte earlier this week called the allegations “unacceptable and unseemly” and called for a full investigation into the show.
One of The Voice Holland’s coaches, Anouk, quit this week after branding the show a “corrupt gang”.
British television firm ITV Studios bought the rights to the show in 2015 from de Mol.
ITV Studios said in a statement that it had a “zero-tolerance policy towards the type of behaviour that is said to have taken place” and had launched an investigation. (AFP)