Belgium: diversity of opinion undiminished

Year after year, the regulatory body for the media expresses its concerns about a potential impoverishment of the media landscape. But the feared loss of diversity has yet to take place. The major papers are as different from each other as ever. And new initiatives are growing in the shadow of the mainstream media.

Kiosk in Brussels (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Kiosk in Brussels (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Often the new outlets are platforms with a certain ideological leaning or social purpose. They use the new media to report on issues they think are not given enough attention by traditional newspapers, radio and TV.

There is a tentative new trend in Flanders. In addition to the mostly progressive platforms (dewereldmorgen.be, apache.be or mo.be), there are now also conservative ones (for example Doorbraak.be), and even a patently right-wing forum (sceptr.net) which was launched in 2016.

A further cause for concern is the concentration of power on the media market. The fusion of the Flemish publishers Corelio (De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad) and Concentra (Gazet van Antwerpen) to form Het Mediahuis in 2013 sent a shock wave through the country. As a result, all Flemish newspapers are now de facto in the hands of two concerns: Mediahuis and De Persgroep (Het Laatste Nieuws, De Morgen). Both concerns also own major newspapers in The Netherlands.

However, the survival of the newspapers in the limited market seems to be ensured for the time being. At least it is guaranteed that they will remain in Belgian hands. The major publishing companies have revamped and reorganized their titles, slashing hundreds of jobs in the process. At the same time the publishers have invested mainly in online services. Thanks to online subscriptions, the circulation of Flemish newspapers has increased slightly since 2014.

Wallonia saw a similar trend. When the telecommunications cooperative Tecteogroup (now Nethys) acquired regional newspapers from L'Avenir in 2013, critics warned of a new monopoly and of potential political influence by the municipalities with a stake in Tecteo.

The cooperation between Nethys and the publishing group IPM (La Libre Belgique, La Dernière Heure) has been postponed for the time being. Nethys nevertheless remains a serious rival to market leader Rossel (Le Soir).

The spectrum of newspapers in French-speaking Belgium has always been smaller than in the Flemish part, and the impact of the financial crisis continues to be felt more strongly here than in Flanders. The overall circulations of Belgian newspapers have halved in the past fifty years.

Nevertheless, the newspapers have largely managed to sever their ideological ties. In 1999 the Flemish quality newspaper De Standaard and its Wallonian counterpart La Libre Belgique ended their links with the Catholic Church and the Christian Democratic Party and are now following an independent liberal course.

Belgium is one of the world's most densely cabled countries, with almost one hundred percent coverage. Public broadcasters are thus subject to strong competition from private channels but also from channels in Belgium's neighbouring countries. The RTL group leads the market in Wallonia, ahead of the public broadcaster RTBF, but in Flanders the public broadcaster VRT has maintained its leading position against the commercial competition. People in Wallonia have a history of watching more television.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 9 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018

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