Belgium: everyone reads the same content

Flanders and Wallonia each have their own media in their respective language, and also their own specific media culture. The results of research into media use can be summarised as follows: French-speaking Belgians watch more television than the Flemish and their newspaper landscape has always been less diverse. One thing the two media landscapes do have in common is that they are both increasingly under threat from concentration of ownership and decreasing diversity of content.

"Hands off my newspaper." Employees of the daily paper L'Avenir protesting against takeover plans in November 2018.
"Hands off my newspaper." Employees of the daily paper L'Avenir protesting against takeover plans in November 2018.
The Flemish media landscape is now dominated by the “Big Five”, as the media supervisory authority has nicknamed the five large media groups that rule the market. The takeover manoeuvres of these media groups have redefined the landscape over the last decade. The fusion of the Flemish publishers Corelio (De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad) and Concentra (Gazet van Antwerpen) to form Het Mediahuis in 2013 sent shock waves through the country. As a result, all Flemish newspapers are now effectively in the hands of two conglomerates: Mediahuis and De Persgroep (Het Laatste Nieuws, De Morgen). The two groups also own major newspapers in The Netherlands.

Newspapers remain in Belgian hands

The third key player is Roularta Media Group, which owns several magazines and journals and took over the financial newspaper De Tijd in 2018. The public broadcasters VRT and De Vijver Media, along with their commercial broadcasters, are the other key players in the media sector.

Media concentration has at least ensured a stable and diverse range of titles. The survival of the country’s newspapers – and what’s more, in Belgian hands – seems to be assured for the time being in this limited market. The major publishing groups have revamped and restructured their media outlets, but most of their investments have gone into their online services. Thanks to online subscriptions, the circulation of the three leading Flemish newspapers (De Tijd, De Standaard and De Morgen) is actually increasing.

Less diverse content as a synergy effect?

But the concentration of media ownership is having a negative impact on diversity of content. The big conglomerates increasingly share content among their own media outlets, and not only in their own country. Het Mediahuis, for example, uses the foreign correspondent network of its Dutch newspapers (for example NRC Handelsblad) for its Flemish daily, De Standaard. And DPG Media exchanges content from its Dutch title De Volkskrant with the Flemish paper De Morgen.

The DPG Media Group, which claims to reach eight out of ten Flemish citizens, recently merged the newsroom of the tabloid Het Laatste Nieuws with that of its own TV channel VTM. This, it explained, allows for faster and more targeted distribution of content. However, VTM's news website disappeared in the process.

Wallonia has also seen a concentration of power in the hands of large groups. When the telecommunications cooperative Tecteo Group (now called Nethys) acquired the L'Avenir regional newspapers in 2013, critics warned of a new monopoly and potential political influence by the municipalities with a stake in Tecteo. Now the cards are being reshuffled once more because Nethys wants to sell L'Avenir. The candidates to take it over are the publishing group IPM (La Libre Belgique, La Dernière Heure), Roularta, and the market leader Rossel (Le Soir).

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 9 (2020)

Last updated: April 2020
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