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Belgium: media concentrated in very few hands

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)

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 fell only slightly in 2013.

Wallonia saw a similar trend. When the telecommunications cooperative Tecteogroup 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.

Tecteo now plans a cooperation with the publishing group IPM (La Libre Belgique, La Dernière Heure) and could thus become a serious rival to market leader Rossel (Le Soir).

The spectrum of newspapers in French-speaking Belgium has always been smaller than in Flanders, but the financial crisis exacerbated the situation. The Wallonians have in any case always tended to watch more television. Overall print runs of Belgian newspapers have halved in the last 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 those of Belgium's neighbours. 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.

Press Freedom Index:

Reporters without Borders: 15th place (2015)
Freedom House: 4th place (2014)

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