Seminar ‘Policy suggestions for free and independent media in Belgium’

On 10 December 2012, the Perelman Centre for Legal Philosophy and the Institute for European Studies (IEE) of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) organised a seminar to present and discuss policy suggestions for the promotion of free and independent media in Belgium. Participants included journalists, politicians, public officials, university professors, students, lawyers, legal counsels and representatives of media industry groups. The seminar brought together more than thirty participants from the two main Belgian language communities, and the presentations and discussions took place in French, Dutch and English.

Mr. Bart Van Besien, researcher at the Belgian MEDIADEM team, opened the seminar with a presentation of the project and its main findings, focusing on project’s policy recommendations for the development of free and independent media in Belgium.

The seminar then served to discuss and debate three specific policy suggestions:

The first panel concentrated on ‘Guarantees for the freedom and independence of journalists’. Mr. Ides Debruyne of the Fund Pascal Decroos for Investigative Journalism talked about the importance of sustaining and promoting investigative journalism through alternative channels of funding. Ms. Martine Simonis of the Association of Professional Journalists (AJP – AGJPB) focused on the impact of precarious working conditions and inadequate income on journalists’ (mostly freelancer’s) independence.

The second panel discussed the policy suggestion advanced by the Belgian team on the need to ensure that the legal and constitutional rules on the freedom of the press are technology-neutral. Mr. Dirk Voorhoof (professor of media law at the University of Ghent), Mr. Jacques Englebert (professor at ULB and a lawyer specialised in media law) and Mr. Francis Delpérée (Senator and vice-president of the Committee on Institutional Affairs of the Belgian Senate) discussed recent Belgian and European case law on the freedom of the press and the reluctance of Belgian politicians to reform Articles 25 and 150 of the Belgian Constitution. The debate that followed demonstrated that enlarging the scope of protection offered by the Belgian Constitution through a broader interpretation of the existing articles is generally considered to be more appropriate than constitutional reform.

The third panel addressed the ‘dual media market’ and the need to guarantee a level playing field for private and public media in the country.  Ms. Margaret Boribon of the Association of French-language Newspaper Publishers (JFB) talked about the importance of ensuring fair competition between private and public media. Ms. Boribon claimed that the current practice of the public service broadcaster (RTBF) to allow commercial advertising on its internet platforms constitutes unfair competition and jeopardises the existence of the newspaper publishers. Ms. Nicola Frank of the European Broadcasting Union stressed the importance of a ‘dual’ media market for democratic societies in Europe. According to Ms. Frank, this includes the possibility of public service broadcasters to enroll their activities online. The panel discussion was followed by an animated debate among participants on the public – private media relationship.

Overall, the seminar provided an opportunity for the Belgian research team to contribute to the ongoing discussions on media policy reform, stressing the importance of ensuring free and independent media in Belgium.

The agenda is available in English, French and Dutch.

For more information, you may contact Bart Van Besien.