COMPENDIUM CULTURAL POLICIES AND TRENDS IN EUROPE
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Belgium/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.6 Media pluralism and content diversity

Flemish Community

Various large groups balance each other out in the Flemish media sector in its entirety (newspapers, magazines, radio and television). Local concentration movements did not lead to the development of one dominant player. The offer of newspapers, magazines and Flemish radio and television broadcasting services has even grown, despite these concentrations.

The public monopoly for national radio was broken up in 2003. With the arrival of national and regional private radio stations a more diverse radio landscape was created.

The high penetration of Flemish cable TV (in 2009 96.5% of Flemings older than 15 years watched television via cable TV) was until 2005-2006 unique in Europe and made the situation of the Flemish media landscape one of a kind; with the launch of interactive digital television services that landscape has slightly changed to a more competitive environment. Watching television is not only possible through multiple distribution channels but also through multiple playback devices. According to Digi Meter (2009), 21.2% of Flemings watch TV online at least once a month on a computer screen and 3.6% watch at least once a month on the phone. (Source: VRIND 2010)

In this sector, the government wants to take on the role of an objective and moderate regulator and facilitator to protect a balanced and multiform media landscape, where the various market players are able to provide a diverse and high quality offer from which every citizen can choose and that is easily accessible. In the current policy term (2009-2014), the three main goals of Flemish media policy are:

  • the independence, pluralism and quality of media and information;
  • access for every Fleming to a diverse, high quality and innovative media content; and
  • to encourage the media as partners in an advanced information society.

The task of public radio and television (VRT) is determined by Decree (coordinated Decree of 2005). The Decree states the objective that the VRT provides a high quality offer in the following sectors: information, culture, education and recreation. The VRT's priority is to bring viewers and listeners focussed information and culture programmes. Sport, modern education, in-house drama and recreation are also provided. The VRT and the Flemish government conclude management agreements every five years. These agreements include performance standards for the realisation of the objectives.

The 2002-2006 management agreement between the public broadcasting network and the Flemish Community remains quite vague with regard to cultural assignments. The performance standard in question states that television programming must include a varied range of culture, reaching on average 15% of the population. Another performance standard is that the share of Flemish TV productions and co-productions must be at least 50% of the total programme offer between 6 pm and 11 pm.

The current management agreement between the public broadcasting network and the Flemish Community was established in 2007, going through to 2011. It has several elements regarding cultural assignments. The performance standard in question states that television programming must include a varied range of culture. In addition to radio and television, the management agreement (2007-2011) acknowledges the Internet and mobile media as major instruments by means of which VRT can fulfil its public duties. That must allow the VRT to develop a thematically specialist supply for culture, news and sport.

The VRT also has plans to provide enhanced access to its digital archive. These plans are being discussed in collaboration with the cultural heritage sector in Flanders.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

The decree on audio-visual media services adopted in the French-speaking Community of Belgium includes several provisions helping to ensure transparency and safeguarding media pluralism. These measures do not seek in so many words to ban certain forms of media concentration, but aim instead:

  • to ensure transparency in media ownership; and
  • to guarantee pluralism of content, particularly where the market is dominated by powerful operators.

The basic purpose underlying these rules is to ensure public access to information about the editors of services, to allow them to form their own opinion on the origin of the information they receive. They also seek to furnish the Higher Audio-visual Council (CSA) with the information it needs on the one hand to assess the independence of the service editors, and on the other to monitor the activities of the service editors for the sake of ensuring the public’s freedom of access to a pluralist supply in terms of audio-visual media services.

There are certain rules in place to guarantee pluralism of points of view and approaches in terms of the supply of information by denying a service editor the exclusive right over certain types of information and imposing an obligation to process the information to guarantee a balance between the various existing ideological convictions.

Several provisions have also been brought in to avoid interference by any public or private authority in the processing of information, thereby ensuring the independence, autonomy and accountability of the audio-visual media service editors.

Public service TV and radio also have to oversee the quality and diversity of their broadcasting, for the sake of gathering the largest possible audiences and at the same time responding to the expectations of socio-cultural minorities. These broadcasts must also be able to reflect the various schools of thought within society, without discrimination, in particular of a cultural, sexual or ideological nature.

When it comes to the print media, the French-speaking Community of Belgium contributes to maintaining diversity of titles and safeguarding pluralism of opinions by developing systems to help daily newspapers.

The French-speaking Community of Belgium subsidises several associative media, in particular the youth information centres which provide general information and promote ‘the development of critical, active and responsible citizenship […] through consciousness raising and an understanding of the realities in society’ (Decree of 20 July 2000 laying down the conditions for the recognition of local youth centres, meeting and lodging centres, youth information centres and their federations). The decree singles out the importance of ensuring ‘the ownership, by young people, of information and information tools for the sake of pluralism, independence and comprehensiveness’.

German-speaking Community

The Belgian Broadcasting and Television Centre (BRF) is responsible for information, education and entertainment of the audience and has the task to make the German-speaking Community known. Information broadcasts have to be transmitted in compliance with strict objectivity criteria and without previous censure. The management board, which has supervisory responsibility for the Centre, strives for freedom of opinion for the various ideological and philosophical tendencies.

According to the Media Decree, all television providers must ensure the visibility of the German-speaking Community in their programmes. Works from European countries must have a share in the programming; a representative part of them may not be older then 5 years. Private radio broadcasters have to enshrine balanced information that reflects a multitude of views in their programming. Furthermore, they have to put emphasis on culture and artists from the German-speaking Community and the neighbouring regions.

Private individual and legal entities are able under their own responsibility to transmit television programming under certain time limitations. For this purpose, the German-speaking Community has set up a public broadcasting channel under private sponsorship, which offers free, equal access and free, equal use. Access is denied, inter alia, to political parties; sponsored contributions are not permitted.


Chapter published: 02-12-2014

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