In Belgium, Media is a competence of the Communities, with each having its own legal framework for media and its own media regulator. In the Flemish Community, Media is a separate policy field from Culture, of which Benjamin Dalle (2019-2024) is the sitting minister for Flanders (in the previous term, Sven Gatz was both minister of Culture and Media).
The independent Flemish Regulator of the Media monitors media concentration, but does not have the authority to take regulatory action. The Flemish government subsidizes the Pascal Decroos Fund, which gives grants to projects in investigative journalism. The Vlaamse Vereniging voor Journalisten (VVJ) is an advocacy and support organisation for journalists. In 2019, they established an online complaints office for cases of aggression against journalists. The VVJ is also one of the initiators of the Council for Journalism (RVDJ), an independent body for self-regulation in the Flemish press. Mediawijs is the expertise centre on media and digital literacy. Media literacy is also a topic in the curriculums of schools as it is featured in the legally binding attainment goals of the Flemish education system (see 5.1).
Next to policies on the Flemish level, we should mention that the Belgian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression (art. 19) and freedom of press (art. 25; see also 2.2 and 4.1.1). As a consequence, people are free to carry out journalistic activities and can call themselves a ‘journalist’ as they like. Professional journalists, however, are protected by law and permissions to carry out the profession are granted by an official commission.
Media industries in Flanders have developed largely independent from those in the other parts of Belgium and constitute a small market compared to neighbouring countries. There is one Flemish Public Broadcaster (VRT), which has radio, television and online services. Together with four private media companies, VRT owns a majority of radio, television, and print (newspapers and magazines) media in Flanders. The most read online news media are also owned by the companies among these ‘big five’. Next to this, the Flemish public has access to a broad range of local media (see also table 1 in 1.3.2) and media outlets from the other Communities and other countries.
88% of people in Flanders consults news on a daily basis, mostly through (respectively) television, radio, and smartphone. Classic media remain a stronghold, with ‘new’ media such as streaming services often combined with more traditional media consumption (‘cord cutting’ is for example rare). In 2020, Streamz was launched as a Flemish ‘alternative’ for foreign video streaming services. It was initiated by two of the four large private media companies. VRT was prompted by the Flemish government to participate in the project by delivering content.
VRT produces its own audiovisual content, but also participates in independent productions — as is stipulated in its current management agreement with the Flemish government. One of the strategic goals in this agreement states that VRT must encourage cultural participation and must pay attention to a diversity of artistic and cultural expressions. A new management agreement is due for 2021. In preparatory texts, “stimulating Flemish creativity” is put forth as one of the main topics and information and culture are mentioned as priorities in the offer of the VRT. Audiovisual media productions such as television series can also receive support from the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF; see 3.5.3).
According to the 2020 edition of the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM2020), Belgium as a whole (thus comprising all three Communities) has a relatively positive score for media pluralism. Basic protection (related to the status of journalists, safeguards for freedom of expression, the independence of regulatory bodies, etc.) and political independence (of news production, distribution, and access) are both low risk. The MPM2020 signals a medium risk with regard to media plurality. As described above, there is a significant (cross-media) concentration of players, which own the majority of news media outlets on the Flemish market. The threat is also real for online platforms: use of social media and online search engines is well-established in Belgium, but the companies behind these media do not provide the necessary transparency. Neither Federal nor regional regulations contain provisions that account for the non-economic threats associated with a highly concentrated media market. Commercial and owner influence over editorial content form a potential threat, as social protection for journalists and editors against these influences is only accounted for through self-regulation and deontological codes.
Social inclusiveness of the Belgian media also constitutes a medium risk according to the MPM2020. The report notes that protection of access to media for minority groups is based on rather generic and abstract anti-discrimination regulation, which might pose a problem for effectively implementing this access. Public service media do a better job than private players in providing access to media for people with disabilities. Revision and correct implementation of policies on point remain an issue. With regard to gender balance, the MPM2020 concludes that women are underrepresented in higher positions (see 2.5.5 for similar conclusions on the arts), especially in those related to production of media content. Women are still underrepresented in news media, both as ‘news subjects’ and as ‘reporters or presenters’, across all media.
The MPM2020 presents a separate discussion of media pluralism in the online environment. Here, the indicators of media plurality and political independence are highlighted as medium risks. It signals the lack of control mechanisms and knowledge on digital native news media (which do not fall under the obligations of transparency towards media regulators, but whose audience reach is rather limited) as a potential problem, for example with regard to relations with political groupings. The role of social media and online platforms as intermediary for consulting news (59% of Belgians access news through these) entails a problem for the traditional advertising revenue model of media companies.
 Vandendriessche, Karel, and Lieven De Marez. 2020. ‘IMEC Digimeter 2019. Digitale mediatrends in Vlaanderen’. Leuven: IMEC, 48-49, 72-74.
 VRT. 2019. ‘Vlaanderen mee-maken. Visietekst ter voorbereiding van de beheersovereenkomst 2021-2025’, resp. 9 and 6.