4.2.6 Media pluralism and content diversity
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 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.
The French Community has thereby adopted some provisions to regulate concentrations, with a view to ensure the respect of the pluralism of the media. The aim of these measures is not to forbid certain types of concentration, but rather of:
Several measures have been taken to avoid the interferences of any unspecified public or private authority in the treatment of information, and thus to ensure the independence, autonomy and responsibility of broadcasters.
Thus, for example, Article 7, §2 of the 14 July 1997 French Community Decree, ruling on the Belgian French Community Radio Television, states that:
"the programmes broadcast by the company that contribute to the information or the education of viewers or listeners, are made in a spirit of objectivity, with no prior censorship or interference from any public or private authority."
Furthermore, as the vocation of the public service is to guarantee the diversity of programmes on offer, including, amongst others, general information programmes, cultural development programmes, etc… regulations were defined in that sense.
The public utility broadcaster in the Belgian French Community must take particular care of the quality and the diversity of programmes, to rally the largest possible audiences while meeting the expectations of socio cultural minorities. These programmes must also reflect the different trends of society, without any form of discrimination, whether cultural, sexual, ideological, etc.
In addition, regulations relating to the contents of the media were taken. The aim of these regulations is to ensure public access to information on service editors, thus allowing the public to make up its own opinion on the origin of the information it receives. These regulations also aim at allowing a control authority to have the necessary information to, on one hand, judge the independence of service editors, and on the other hand, to supervise the activities of the latter in order to ensure the freedom of the public to access to a pluralist offer in the broadcasting services.
Some regulations aim at guaranteeing the pluralism of opinions regarding the information on offer by banning the exclusivity rights of a service editor on certain types of information, and by imposing the obligation of information processing that guarantees a balance between the various existing ideological trends.
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.