Local Media for Democracy — country focus: Belgium

Report authored by Olivier Standaert – Observatory for Research on Media and Journalism (ORM – UCLouvain)


In Belgium, there is no regular debate on the question of news deserts, but instead discussions and debates exist on the viability of news organisations (revenue and business models), the diversity and quality of news, the way young people consume news and their news diet. The accessibility of news is discussed with regards to the progressive disappearance of physical points of sales and the decline in sales of print journals, however, high internet penetration compensates for this trend. Regarding the local news media, which are by definition close to their audience, It can be argued that some regions/provinces, especially in the south of the country (Luxemburg) do not benefit from the same offer in terms of numbers of news outlets and coverage by journalists, in particular because they are less densely populated or less accessible and further from the political, cultural and economic epicentres.

There is no legal definition of local and community media, except a legal framework for the local television stations in the French and Flemish communities (respectively, 12 and 10 channels). Both of them provide a broad definition framework for the local television (and radio) stations that cover their territory, in cases when, for example these stations are subsidised by public money and fall under the category of (partly) public service media. This framework defines the coverage area, the main missions, the funding rules, etc. In practice, other local news media, that is private media, are basically defined according to two criteria: their anchorage in a defined part of the national territory (geography) and its targeted population (audience).

Main findings

Granularity of infrastructure of local media- Low risk (33%)

The typical/most common media formats for local media in Belgium are local radio stations, local television stations, newspapers and some online only outlets. Local radio stations are numerous in Belgium, be they stand-alone small stations or bigger ones, attached to a major player (PSM for instance) or not. The Flemish Media Regulator lists 231 local radio stations or local branches of national ones. In French-speaking Belgium, there are currently 60 web radio outlets and 85 independent radio stations, PSM (RTBF) local networks and 10 radio outlets organised in a network. They offer a fine coverage of the territory, and although not all these stations have journalists or news programmes (due to the smallness of their structure), they nevertheless create social links on a local, or even hyper-local scale.[1]

Local television stations cover the whole territory according to a geographical distribution plan defined by the public authorities[2]. There are 12 local television stations for Brussels and Wallonia, and 10 Flemish stations covering Flanders and Brussels as well. The print sector, despite a global decline in the number of local editions/titles, remains a non-substitutable player due to the high number of journalists and freelancers who cover communities in rural areas. L’Avenir and Sudinfo each have many local editions in Wallonia, and Flanders localities are covered by different Flemish titles such as Het Belang Van Limburg, Gazet van Antwerpen and local editions of big titles such as Het Laatste Nieuws (the country’s best-selling newspaper)and Het Nieuwsblad. Rural communities are sometimes less served and covered than urban communities and if the budget is cut, it is feared that outlying areas and rural communities will be more likely to lose their local correspondents because their economic weight is smaller. It is quite clear that there are no local media for each of the suburban areas, but as a general rule they are covered by the local or national media, when current events require it or depending on editorial lines. There are also hyperlocal media, sometimes run on a voluntary basis or by semi-professionals, notably via Facebook or other social media pages.

The two main public service media (VRT and RTBF) do not neglect the challenges of local information and their local missions: a number of investments in studios and/or buildings; and the number of journalists dedicated to local coverage is fairly stable, although it can vary from one region to another. Belga is the main news agency in Belgium, relying on some 80 permanent journalists working in the two main national languages, as well as on around 50 (local) correspondents.

The map you can find at the following link refers to the local and regional radio coverage in Belgium.The data for this visualisation was obtained from Conseil Superieur de L’Audiovisuel (2022) and Vlaamse Regulator voor de Media – Lijst van de particuliere locale Radio’s.  

[1] Le secteur de la radio en Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, 2023, https://www.csa.be/radio/; Rapport over de mediaconcentratie in Vlaanderen., Vlaamse Regulator voor de media, 2023, https://www.vlaamseregulatormedia.be/sites/default/files/pdfversions/rapport_mediaconcentratie_in_vlaanderen_2023.pdf; Lijst Van De Particuliere Lokale Radio’s, Vlaamse Regulator voor de Media, 2023, https://www.vlaamseregulatormedia.be/nl/radio-tv-en-netwerken/radio/particuliere-radio-omroeporganisaties-lokale-radio-omroeporganisaties;  T. Evans and K. Raeymaeckers Profes, Media Landscapes: Belgium, 2019, https://medialandscapes.org/country/belgium; M. Libert et al., Le portrait des journalistes belges en 2023, 2023, https://lapij.ulb.ac.be/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Journalistiek_BW_FR_digitaal_metCover.pdf;

S. Van Leuven et al., Le portrait des journalistes belges en 2018, 2018, https://www.ajp.be/telechargements/profil-des-journalistes/2018_etude.pdf;

O. Standaert, Le journalisme flexible. Insertion professionnelle et marché du travail des jeunes journalistes de Belgique francophone, 2016, https://www.peterlang.com/document/1113799.

[2] https://www.mediasdeproximite.be/le-reseau-des-medias-de-proximite/

Market and reach – Low risk (38%)

Although interest in local information is strong in Belgium, this does not always translate into purchases or subscriptions to local news media, particularly because free content is substantial. The Belgian market is characterised by relative stability (few new media, few closures these last five years) but there is no guarantee that the (near) future will be that stable.  Between 2018 and 2022, this research registered very few closures in the daily press, radio and TV stations. The free newspaper Metro was closed in 2023, after 20 years of publication. The local title De Nieuwe Gazet (local to Antwerp) was closed in 2022. In a longer view (1990-2020), the Belgian landscape of daily newspapers has faced a number of closures, but the current number of titles remains stable. Finally, even if many weeklies and monthlies do not fit the definition of local news media, it is worth noting that this sector has probably been the most affected by closures these last ten years.

Local daily newspapers belong to four publishers (DPG, Mediahuis, Rossel, IPM), each of them facing common challenges in different organisational contexts. The same is true for other actors (PSM, local radio and television). However, where available, analyses show a decline in the number of employees, all categories taken together, not especially and not only journalists. Sales figures show contrasted views, with the main challenge consisting in securing and amplifying the digital shift of subscribers.[1] The Flemish market is nonetheless bigger and more robust than the French-speaking one, which also suffers from a greater penetration of French news media.

Regarding the distribution chain, the number of physical points of sale has decreased dramatically; it is a problem for the print press, whether newspapers or magazines, although their digital shift is making progress.[2] The phenomenon is the same everywhere in Belgium, but more pronounced in small localities and towns where there are fewer shops and points of sale.

As for financial support provided by the government, there is regular and crucial support of public bodies for local television stations, and, to a (much) lesser extent, for private actors. Print press, including local newspapers also receive some subsidies (depending on many variables) and the “national” PSM (VRT, RTBF and BRF), largely subsidised, are also strongly engaged in local coverage. The Federal authorities help the press (daily or otherwise) with a 0% VAT rule. They also subsidise bPost, the Belgian operator for postal services, for the distribution of newspapers and magazines to subscribers (but this mechanism will progressively disappear from July 2023 onwards and will be replaced by an alternative system until 2026).[3] At the time of finalising this report, this issue, which has been the source of much tension between the parties involved, is still likely to evolve in various directions. Next, most of the financial support depends on the Communities. The French Community operates with direct aid in the form of various types of subsidies. The total amount in 2021 was 11 million euro for the daily press. In the case of the 12 local public television services covering the French-speaking Community, it can be stated that the financial support increased in 2021 (15.4 million euro), after having been stable between 2018 and 2020 (13 million each year). The same kind of stability is to be noted for the Flemish local television services. Under the terms of the agreement, the support amounts to 185,100 euro per broadcaster per year. Flemish local television broadcasters also receive an outreach fee from the service distributors Proximus, Telenet, Orange and Nethys.[4] In Flanders, support for the press operated via co-financing between the Flemish Community and “Mediacademie Journalistiek”, but this was suspended in 2020 by the minister responsible for the media (Cools, 2022). In 2021, the Flemish government released 35 million euro for a post-pandemic media recovery plan (until 2024). Finally, the German-speaking Community is providing direct aid to the German-language daily Grenz Echo, the only daily newspaper in this language.[5]

Data from empirical cases analysed show a relative stability in the eligibility criteria and the amount of financial support. But the amount of money provided (fixed in most cases) depends on the number of news outlets applying for funding, and the latter might vary from one year to another. 2024 will be a crucial electoral year in Belgium, with elections at all possible levels of government. The new majorities that will be formed to govern the various entities might modify these systems of direct and indirect financial support for the news media.

The Belgian advertising market was stable in 2022. Advertisers invested around 1.2 billion euro. While some growth was expected, the war in Ukraine and its impact on the economy appears to have had a dampening effect on advertisers. Digital now accounts for over 35% of the market but remains less profitable than offline investment and the GAFAM take a large part of the global investment on the web. Local news media face different situations depending on their status: newspapers are part of larger groups, others (public local televisions) are sometimes contractually limited in their investments in advertising because they benefit from public subsidies. Some off the record talks show that commercial advertisement revenue for local media outlets remain under constant pressure and that digital ads are hard to make profitable. Many private media therefore invest more in the growth in their subscriber basis.[6]

Regarding ownership concentration, the situation depends on the type of media considered. There are still two (local) newspaper publishers in Flanders (DPG and Mediahuis) and the same number in the French-speaking Community (Rossel and IPM); this is the result of a slow evolution towards a duopoly market in each of the two language communities. The situation is more contrasted for radio and television, where there are more public or semi-public players. The magazine market, which publishes few local titles, is the most diversified sector in terms of ownership concentration.

As for the willingness to pay, the daily press faces a significant gap between the number of users as measured by audience figures and the volume of sales. So, the tricky question of willingness to pay remains a hot topic and a source of concern for publishers.[7] The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism stated in 2023 that, “clearly, relying on higher subscription revenues alone is not enough, and might not be in the future, as according to this year’s Digital News Report data, paying for news is declining slightly – with 16% of Flemish and 14% of Walloon news users paying for news in the last year, down from 18% in both regions in 2022”. The same source, in its 2022 report, claimed that 62% of Belgian respondents are interested in local news (about a city, a region, etc.), which is the highest percentage of all the 18 categories (international, sports, politics, coronavirus, etc.).[8] All in all, the total paid audience of French-speaking local newspapers (offline and online) is in decline in 2022, after a “bump” due to the pandemic. In Flanders, the trends are also negative for local newspapers (comparison 2022-2023).[9]

[1] B. Cools, Presse quotidienne belge : passé, présent et futur, 2022, https://www.crisp.be/librairie/catalogue/2097-presse-quotidienne-belge-passe-present-et-futur-9782870753002.html ; Vlaamse regulator voor de media, Rapport Mediaconcentratie in Vlaanderen 2023, 2023, https://www.vlaamseregulatormedia.be/nl/mediaconcentratie

[2] O. Standaert, S. Mertens, L. d’Haenens and B. Grevisse, Analyse stratégique de la situation actuelle et de l’avenir des diffuseurs de presse indépendants, 2019, p. 63, https://economie.fgov.be/fr/publications/analyse-strategique-de-la.

[3] Le Soir, Distribution des journaux : un accord a été trouvé, la concession abandonnée, 2023,


[4] Vlaanderen Departement Cultuur, Jeugd & Media,2023, https://www.vlaanderen.be/cjm/nl/media/subsidies/regionale-televisieomroepen.

[5] B. Cools, Presse quotidienne belge: passé, présent et futur économiques, 2022, https://www.crisp.be/librairie/catalogue/2097-presse-quotidienne-belge-passe-present-et-futur-9782870753002.html; Le service général de l’Audiovisuel et des Médias (SGAM) en Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Subventions accordées aux Télévisions locales, 2023, https://statistiques.cfwb.be/culture/audiovisuel-et-medias/subventions-accordees-aux-televisions-locales; P. Ballon and H. Van den Bulck, Doorlichting van het Vlaams audiovisueel beleid 2021, 2021, Universiteit Antwerpen, https://publicaties.vlaanderen.be/view-file/50765.

[6] United Brands Association (UBA), Le benchmark média UBA-UMA révèle à nouveau les dépenses média nettes en Belgique, 2023, https://www.ubabelgium.be/fr/news-resources/item/2023/03/14/Le-benchmark-média-UBA-UMA-révèle-à-nouveau-les-dépenses-média-nettes-en-Belgique; B. Cools, Presse quotidienne belge : passé, présent et futur, 2022, https://www.crisp.be/librairie/catalogue/2097-presse-quotidienne-belge-passe-present-et-futur-9782870753002.html; Media Marketing, Comment va le marché publicitaire belge ? Ça dépend…, 2023, https://www.mm.be/news-fr-69032-intelligence-seen-from-space-comment-va-le-marche-publicitaire-belge-ca-depend; L’Echo , J-F Sacré, Le digital pèse 35% du marché publicitaire mais la télé reste leader, 2023, https://www.lecho.be/entreprises/media-marketing/le-digital-pese-35-du-marche-publicitaire-mais-la-tele-reste-leader/10454356.html.

[7] B. Cools, Presse quotidienne belge : passé, présent et futur, 2022, https://www.crisp.be/librairie/catalogue/2097-presse-quotidienne-belge-passe-present-et-futur-9782870753002.html.

[8] I. Picone, Digital News Report 2023: Belgium, Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism, 2023, https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/digital-news-report/2023/belgium; B. Cools,  Presse quotidienne belge : passé, présent et futur, 2023, https://www.crisp.be/2023/04/presse-quotidienne-belge-passe-present-et-futur/.

[9] CIM, Etude audience presse du CIM, 2023, https://www.cim.be/fr/presse?date=2023-March&universe=National&title=gaz&page=1;  Digital News Report,2023; Le Soir, P. Laloux, 2022, https://www.lesoir.be/470818/article/2022-10-12/le-belge-lit-moins-de-journaux-sauf-le-soir;  Médias de proximité, Idem, 2021, https://www.mediasdeproximite.be/nos-audiences/.

Safety of local journalists – Low risk (25%)

The working conditions of journalists in Belgium are well documented[1]. Local news media do not represent a particular (nor homogeneous) market in this regard. Journalists working as freelancers generally work without the same contractual guarantees and protections as their colleagues with an employee contract. This situation differs partly from one organisation to another.

Regarding remuneration, some local media, among others in the daily press, pay their staff below the average of other players in the market, and potentially with average salaries below the national average in the journalism market. In 2022, an employed journalist earned just over a third (36.9%) more than a freelance journalist.[2] Freelancers are not entitled to labour and/or social security protection, such as unemployment or pension schemes: they must contribute to these protections by themselves. The tax regime for self-employed workers, which, in particular, allows them to invoice authors’ rights, was recently amended by the competent minister. This threatens and penalises self-employed journalists who invoice using this system.

There is a legal framework in place to guarantee the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against journalists: the effectiveness of this framework is to be discussed, since the cases treated by the PFS Justice can be very different.  The number of physical attacks remains low and the pandemic was a particular time of higher social tensions; online harassment, intimidation or attacks happen more frequently and not all of them are reported. An important question is how journalists are supported and protected by their employer when such attacks happen.[3]

Local journalists may be subject to specific pressures or influence due to their geographical proximity and relationships with some of their sources. Those pressures are most often small remarks, warnings and comments, not more, and media professionals can deal with them, but it happens, and journalists must have this in mind. Because of the evolution of some local news media, which were seen/perceived, in the past (last third of the 20th century), as “sociocultural” actors dedicated to supporting local life in its various dimensions, journalists were not systematically seen as independent and expected to hold politicians (and other actors) accountable. There is an evolution towards more liberty in this regard.[4]

SLAPP cases occur rarely but there is no anti-SLAPP legal framework in place in Belgium. Although the real dimension of this phenomenon within the EU is unknown, a 2022 report by the Article 19 organisation found an increasing number of SLAPP cases targeting journalists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists, and highlighted that none of the countries analysed (including Belgium) had specific domestic legislation on SLAPPs. The European anti-SLAPP directive applies to SLAPPs that have cross-border implications with at least one EU country involved, but EU member states should still pass their own anti-SLAPP laws to address purely domestic cases.[5]

[1] See national surveys from UGent and ULB in 2013, 2018 and 2023UGent-ULB, Le journaliste belge en 2013. Un autoportrait, 2013. https://lapij.ulb.ac.be/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Enquete_journalistes_2013_FR.pdf; S. Van Leuven et al., Portrait des journalistes belges en 2018, https://www.ajp.be/telechargements/profil-des-journalistes/2018_etude.pdf; M. Libert et al., Portrait des journalistes belges en 2023,  https://lapij.ulb.ac.be/lenquete-portrait-des-journalistes-belges-en-2023-est-en-ligne/

[2] M. Libert et al., Portrait des journalistes belges en 2023, https://lapij.ulb.ac.be/lenquete-portrait-des-journalistes-belges-en-2023-est-en-ligne/

[3] MFRR, Mapping Media Freedom | Monitoring Report, 2022, 2022, https://www.mappingmediafreedom.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/MFRR-Monitoring-Report-2022.pdf;  Counseil de L’Europe, Rapport annuel des organisations partenaires de la Plateforme du Conseil de l’Europe pour renforcer la protection du journalisme et la sécurité des journalistes, 2020, https://rm.coe.int/rapport-annuel-final-fr/16809f03aa.

[4] J. Furnémont, Les Médias De Proximité, 2023: https://regulation.be/2023/06/28/les-medias-de-proximite-des-medias-qui-sadaptent-evoluent-innovent-echangent-mutualisent-au-benefice-des-citoyens-de-la-federation-wallonie-bruxelles;  C. Glesner, TV Lux mis sous pression par les élus communaux à travers la Sofilux, 2021, https://www.sudinfo.be/art/884141/article/2021-12-16/tv-lux-mis-sous-pression-par-les-elus-communaux-travers-la-sofilux.

[5] Article 19, SLAPPs against journalists across Europe, 2022, https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/A19-SLAPPs-against-journalists-across-Europe-Regional-Report.pdf; European Parliament,  Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), 2022, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2022/733668/EPRS_BRI(2022)733668_EN.pdf;  E. Behrens , Center for data innovation, The European Commission’s Anti-SLAPP Directive is a Step in the Right Direction, But Member States Need to Pass Anti-SLAPP Laws Too,2023, https://datainnovation.org/2023/02/the-european-commissions-anti-slapp-directive-is-a-step-in-the-right-direction-but-member-states-need-to-pass-anti-slapp-laws-too/#:~:text=The.

Editorial independence – Low risk (28%)

In terms of legal limitations to direct and indirect ownership control, audio-visual media are more regulated than other legacy media such as newspapers and magazines.[1] This requirement of independence from the political sector is also extended to professional associations and trade organisations, for instance regarding the local TV stations that cover Flemish territory. The legal text regarding the French-speaking community globally goes in the same direction and defends the independence of the audio-visual sector in the same way. Radio and television outlets have long been a state monopoly and the state has established a legal framework, while newspapers and magazines were mainly controlled by private actors.[2]

Criteria for state subsidies are defined, and direct and indirect subsidies are distributed to all the news media both in a fair and transparent manner. Types of subsidies and criteria for distribution can be consulted online, with no source indicating that these criteria are applied unfairly. In Flanders, some local media also get funding from their municipality (3,2% of the 251 that have been listed by the Flemish Media Regulator).[3]

Legal texts say nearly nothing about the criteria of distribution of state advertising, or their fairness. Confidential data shows that there are no precise rules regarding state advertising.[4] Moreover, the amounts and their breakdown lack transparency and consideration.

On paper, Belgium benefits from a variety of guarantees to preserve the independence of the press, from both political and commercial influences.[5] Experts in the field have pointed out however, that these “paper guarantees” do not always unequivocally apply in practice.

In terms of commercial influence over editorial content, the private media in Belgium (DPG, Roularta, Rossel, Mediahuis, Roularta, MediaNation and IPM) belong to family shareholdings, which raises the question of commercial influences in other terms. Gathering tangible evidence on this subject remains difficult. It is not impossible that certain pressures are exerted from time to time, and it is true that some confusion or “mixing of genres” are possible between sponsored content and editorial content, which is sometimes written by the same people, while needing to be clearly differentiated (which is generally the case). It has to be acknowledged that situations where media groups promote their own products happen frequently. At the same time, local news media are able to protect themselves from external commercial entities. 

There is general constitutional protection of freedom of expression and press freedoms, and self-regulatory codes of ethics for journalists. The Belgian survey of the Worlds of Journalism Study states that 67% of the respondents say that they have complete or a great deal of freedom in their selection of stories. The pressure exerted by politicians and government officials is amongst the lowest in the list of perceived influences.[6] In Belgium, the journalistic culture, the normative conceptions and concrete practices, foster resilience against potential pressure.

This remit of the media authority concerns, in variable degrees, the public media and the audio-visual market, and local radio/TV stations are included. Laws and principles that apply to the national PSM also apply to local branches, and no data was found suggesting that there is a particular vulnerability in this respect.

[1] For instance, the main guidelines of the Flemish legal text regulating the audio-visual sector state that “Linear radio broadcasters must be independent of any political party” (art. 130). The same is said of linear television broadcasters, and further, of non-linear players (art. 174). https://www.vlaamseregulatormedia.be/nl/radio-tv-netwerken

[2] F. Jongen and A. Strowel, Droit des médias et de la communication, 2017, https://www.larcier-intersentia.com/fr/droit-medias-communication-9782804461171.html#product.info.tab.details; Communauté française de Belgique, Décret relatif aux services de medias audiovisuels et aux services de partage de vidéos, 2021, https://www.csa.be/document/decret-relatif-aux-services-de-medias-audiovisuels-et-aux-services-de-partage-de-videos; Vlaamse Gemeentschap, Decreet Betreffende Radio-omroep En Televisie, 2009, https://www.vlaamseregulatormedia.be/sites/default/files/mediadecreet_27_maart_2009_26_versie_01122022.pdf; H. Messoudi,  IPM rachète l’Avenir à Nethys, 2020, https://www.rtbf.be/article/ipm-rachete-l-avenir-et-moustique-a-nethys-les-syndicats-sont-inquiets-10539771; RSF, Reporters Sans Frontières – Belgique,  2023, https://rsf.org/fr/pays/belgique.

[3] Vlaamse regulator voor de media, Mediaconcentratie in Vlaanderen, 2023, https://www.vlaamseregulatormedia.be/nl/nieuws/2023/mediaconcentratierapport-2023-gepubliceerd; Vlaamse Gemeentschap, Subsidies voor de audiovisuele sector, 2023, https://www.vlaanderen.be/subsidies-voor-de-audiovisuele-sector; Vlaamse Gemeentschap, Subsidie voor bijzondere journalistiek, 2023, https://www.vlaanderen.be/subsidie-voor-bijzondere-journalistiek; Communauté française de Belgique, Aides aux médias , 2023, https://audiovisuel.cfwb.be/aides/aide-medias/; Communauté française de Belgique, Décret relatif aux aides attribuées à la presse quotidienne écrite francophone , 2004, https://www.gallilex.cfwb.be/document/pdf/28687_003.pdf; J. Sacré, LN24 sollicite un prêt auprès de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2023, https://www.lecho.be/entreprises/media-marketing/ln24-sollicite-un-pret-aupres-de-la-federation-wallonie-bruxelles/10493714.html.

[4] F. Jongen and A. Strowel, Règlementation de la publicité, in Droit des médias et de la communication, 2017, https://www.larcier-intersentia.com/fr/droit-medias-communication-9782804461171.html?utm_source=google&utm_medium=paid&utm_campaign=FR_Search_DSA&utm_id=19789595402&utm_term=&utm_content=Search_DSA_Books&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI7oT79cDpggMVLrZoCR2BDAeYEAAYASAAE.

[5] There are many institutions and structures able to monitor these issues and to deal with them, both inside the news media (societies of journalists, internal structures) and outside: Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, Vlaamse Regulator voor de Media, Professional Unions such as VVJ and AJP, and media councils (Raad voor de journalistiek / Conseil de déontologie Journalistique).

[6] I. Lambrecht and P. Valcke, Monitoring media pluralism in the digital era: application of the media pluralism monitor in the European Union, Albania, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey in the year 2022. Country report: Belgium, EUI, RSC, Research Project Report, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), 2023, https://cmpf.eui.eu/mpm2022-results/; O. Standaert and S. Mertens, Country report from the Worlds of Journalism Study: Journalists in Belgium, 2016, https://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/29698/1/Standaer_Mertens_Country_report_Belgium.pdf; P.Valcke, P. Ombelet and I. Lambrecht, Monitoring media pluralism in the digital era: application of the media pluralism monitor in the European Union, Albania, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey in the year 2015. Country report: Belgium, EUI, RSC, Research Project Report, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF), 2016, https://cmpf.eui.eu/media-pluralism-monitor/mpm-2016-results/belgium/#_ftnref9; J. De Keyser, Journalistieke autonomie in Vlaanderen: onderzoeksrapport in opdracht van het Kabinet van de Vlaamse minister van innovatie, overheidsinvesteringen, media en armoedebestrijding, 2012,  https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/3039856/file/3039872.pdf.

Social inclusiveness – Medium risk (43%)

Regarding the representation of minorities in local news content, there is a lack of diversity in both the north and south of the country. It would be especially important to be able to study these representations exhaustively, for all the media, which is not currently possible. There is very little data on the content of local media, so it is difficult to establish to what extent they differ from other media, but it is most likely that their proximity enables them to make visible and give voice to people and actors that are almost never seen in media with a wider geographical scope. A recent study from the Audio-visual Council highlights the lack of visibility of people from diverse backgrounds in the various audio-visual programmes. This representation only increased by 1% between 2011 and 2021, and even showed a downward trend between 2017 and 2021. The report also notes that the area in which diversity is most present is that of organised crime, terrorism and justice. In terms of media roles (such as experts, scholars, economic or cultural leaders, people with political responsibilities) the more prestigious these roles are, the less people perceived as foreign are represented. [1]

Beside the issue of the quality of the coverage, is the quantity, which could also be a matter of concern. In the last Barometer of the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (which includes PSM), 11.31% of all speakers observed in programmes were perceived to be from a diverse background. This has affected the majority of programmes over the last 10 years, with some significant drops (-17.78% in drama and -10.35% in entertainment, etc.). In Flanders, a scientific study pointed out that the ethnic diversity of actors and sources was not sufficient in any of the news brands under study. Ethnic minorities are often portrayed in traditional roles and contexts such as that of a politician or a criminal in news stories about national politics and law. The PSM newscast showed more ethnic minorities both as actor and as source than the commercial news broadcaster (VTM).[2] [3]

There are some private media offering contents for some minorities, there are also some news outlets whose editorial line and contents are focused on one community (Arabel, a radio station for the Muslim community, with some programs in Arabic, or Radio Judaïca for the Jewish community).[4] There is no regular news or programmes in minority languages in Belgian PSM.

There are programmes or newspaper sections aimed specifically at certain categories of audience. As an example, RTBF and VRT are gradually increasing their broadcasting time for disabled sports and women’s competitions. It is much more difficult to find entire news outlets addressing marginalised groups in the country. A number of programmes are translated into sign language (for the hearing-impaired), sometimes simultaneously with the live broadcast. [5]

[1] H. Vandenberghe, L. d’Haenens and B. Van Gorp, Demografische diversiteit in het Vlaamse perslandschap, 2015, https://www.aup-online.com/content/journals/10.5117/2015.043.002.169; CSA,  Dix  ans du baromètre du Csa : Un peu plus de femmes, une diversité qui stagne ou régresse dans les médias, 2023, https://www.csa.be/117734/10-ans-du-barometre-du-csa-un-peu-plus-de-femmes-une-diversite-qui-stagne-ou-regresse-dans-les-medias/.

[2] H. Vandenberghe, L. d’Haenens and B. Van Gorp,  Diversiteit in de Vlaamse nieuwsmedia: een longitudinale en mediavergelijkende kijk., 2017, https://researchportal.be/nl/publicatie/diversiteit-de-vlaamse-nieuwsmedia-een-longitudinale-en-mediavergelijkende-kijk; CSA, Baromètre diversité dans les médias, 2021, https://www.csa.be/egalitediversite/barometre-2021-accueil/barometre-2021-lorigine-en-bref/; F. Saeys, M. Lits, I. Devroe, J. Desterbecq and D. Grammens, Association des journalistes Professionnels, La Représentation Des Minorités Ethniques Dans Les Médias Belges, 2007, https://www.ajp.be/telechargements/Rapportfinalfr3001.pdf.

[3] H. Vandenberghe, L. d’Haenens and B. Van Gorp,  Diversiteit in de Vlaamse nieuwsmedia: een longitudinale en mediavergelijkende kijk., 2017, https://researchportal.be/nl/publicatie/diversiteit-de-vlaamse-nieuwsmedia-een-longitudinale-en-mediavergelijkende-kijk; CSA,  10  Ans Du Baromètre Du Csa : Un Peu Plus De Femmes, Une Diversité Qui Stagne Ou Régresse Dans Les Médias, 2023, https://www.csa.be/117734/10-ans-du-barometre-du-csa-un-peu-plus-de-femmes-une-diversite-qui-stagne-ou-regresse-dans-les-medias/.

[4] Radio Judaica, Landing page, https://radiojudaica.be/;  Arabel, Landing page, https://www.arabel.fm/;  The Brussels Times, Landing page, https://www.brusselstimes.com/.

[5] VRT, Extra aandacht vrouwencompetities bij VRT zorgde deze zomer voor groot bereik en hoge waardering, 2022, https://www.vrt.be/nl/over-de-vrt/nieuws/2022/11/03/extra-aandacht-vrouwencompetities-bij-vrt-zorgde-deze-zomer-voor/;  F. Collin, Le sport féminin est l’un des nouveaux piliers de la RTBF, 2023, https://www.rtbf.be/article/le-sport-feminin-est-l-un-des-nouveaux-piliers-de-la-rtbf-11141422.

Best practices and open public sphere

Some media are currently experimenting with innovative responses to improve reach and audience, proposing new forms of work, journalistic products or services, and committing resources to it. Despite a willingness to address these issues, and some very promising initiatives, local news media that implement them in both an intra-organisational and strategic way remain rare. These initiatives and innovations for better links, more trust, more proximity, and dialogue exist, but they are rarely integrated in the core of the organisational structure of local news outlets. The most striking examples of this have been summarised in the LINC research project, which shows how local media are creating initiatives, using digital or physical devices, to renew and improve their links with their audiences: the LINC research project shows four modalities for engaging with audiences, going from the most passive to the most active: listening, dialoguing with its audiences, involving its audiences and finally, co-constructing content and sharing it with subscribers/audiences.[1]

There are some innovative initiatives, in Flanders, to improve reach and audience, proposing new forms of work, journalistic products or services (subsidised by public funding).[2] Citizens’ initiatives emerge from time to time, but they are rarely permanent or structured. These initiatives echo the definition of hyperlocal media: “geographically based, community oriented, original news reporting operations, indigenous to the web and intended to fill perceived news gaps in coverage of an issue or region and to promote civic engagement.”[3] As stated previously, municipalities and some cultural or social associations sometimes launch initiatives to inform and create debates around their fields of interests. These media can fit with the definition of hyper-local news outlets and citizen initiatives because they employ many volunteers and citizens who devote a part of their time to produce content. The Flemish Media Regulator notes that almost every municipality also publishes its own news media. Certain non-profit associations also launch their (web) media.  In these cases (non-profit associations or municipality initiatives), there are more means and resources than something created “from scratch” by a group of citizens. The comparability of these initiatives must be carefully examined and not all of them have the same impact, the same resources and the same goals.[4]

[1] N. Pignard-Cheynel, L. Amigo et al., LINC Research project, 2020, https://www.unine.ch/ajm/linc#cid30c1bf9d-9675-4a67-8d25-a1f32491503b; N. Pignard-Cheynel, and L. Amigo, (Re)connecting with audiences. An overview of audience-inclusion initiatives in European French-speaking local news media, 2023, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/14648849231173299; O. Standaert, N. Pignard-Cheynel and L. Amigo, European French-Speaking Local Media’s Relationship with Audiences. A Strategic Challenge between Diluted and Integrated Organizational Modalities, 2023, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21670811.2023.2234410;  B. Dalle, Flemish Minister for the media, Bijna 12 miljoen euro voor digitale transformatie van de Vlaamse mediasector, 2022, https://www.benjamindalle.be/post/bijna-12-miljoen-euro-voor-digitale-transformatie-van-de-vlaamse-mediasector.

[2] B. Dalle, Flemish Minister for the media, Bijna 12 miljoen euro voor digitale transformatie van de Vlaamse mediasector, 2022, https://www.benjamindalle.be/post/bijna-12-miljoen-euro-voor-digitale-transformatie-van-de-vlaamse-mediasector.

[3] J. De Meulenaere, C. Courtois and K. Ponnet, Bottom-up hyperlocal media in Belgium : Facebook-groups as collaborative neighbourhood awareness systems, In A. Gulyas & D. Baines (Eds.), The Routledge companion to local media and journalism, 2020, pp. 398–407, https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/8625438.

[4] Régulation, De Radio Pirate À Webtv, 2021, https://regulation.be/2021/03/10/de-radio-pirate-a-webtv/  Régulation, Zam Tv, Une Vision Libre De La Diversité, 2019, https://regulation.be/2019/03/04/zam-tv-une-vision-libre-de-la-diversite/;  Régulation, Une Webtv Se Bat Pour Le Droit D’informer, 2021, https://regulation.be/2021/04/09/une-webtv-se-bat-pour-le-droit-dinformer/; J. De Meulenaere, C. Courtois and K. Ponnet, Bottom-up hyperlocal media in Belgium: Facebook-groups as collaborative neighborhood awareness systems,  2020, https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/8625438.

Map of Local and Regional Radio Coverage in Belgium

This map shows the local and regional radio coverage in Belgium. You have the option to filter by radio format and province. Hover over a province to view its local radio coverage, including a detailed breakdown of the number of radio channels by format. Clicking on a specific province provides a detailed list of radio stations in the table below the map, complete with information on radio format and the province where the radio stations broadcast. The blue square dots in the table count the coverage of a media outlet in a given province. The data for this visualisation was obtained from Conseil Superieur de L’Audiovisuel 2022, and Vlaamse Regulator voor de Media – Lijst van de particuliere locale Radio’s 2023.