Belgium: Media divided into linguistic groups

The division of Belgium is an established fact - at least in the media. The French-speaking region, Wallonia, Dutch-speaking Flanders and the small German-speaking region each have their own media and media structures. Experts find it worrying that in none of the three regions is there much media coverage of other parts of the country.

Kiosk in Brussels (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Kiosk in Brussels (© picture-alliance/dpa)
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.

The Belgian cartel authority has warned of a narrowing of the spectrum of opinion, but independent newspapers have little chance of survival in a small market with major competitors. Nevertheless, the reorganisation and renewal of the major newspaper publishers at least means they will remain in Belgian hands, albeit at the cost of hundreds of jobs. Investment has gone mainly into online services, and thanks to online subscriptions the circulations of Flemish newspapers have been rising slowly 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 Rating:
Reporters Without Borders: 9th place (2017)
Freedom House: 2nd place / status: free (2016)

Updated: Mai 2017
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