The Flemish Perspective of a Divided Country

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By Roberta Jackson

Today we met with the director of journalism at a local state university. She began her presentation with the quote “there is no such thing as Belgium media.” Imagine my surprise and amazement when hearing this statement since we came to the university to learn about Belgium media. I listened intently to hear this statement clarified or, at the very least, justified. What she later explained was that there was no national media. Each media outlet radio, print, or television, was segregated by community (i.e.: Dutch, French, or German).

The overarching themes between yesterday and today’s presentations were that of a divided country. The entire country is segregated with no interest in integration. Yesterday we were offered the French perspective which did not reflect any other ethnicity in a positive light. Today’s presentation was not as “in your face” but we could definitively discern the sides were divided and did not particularly care for each other. This information was uncovered by the in depth analysis we performed prior to visiting Belgium. However, I was taken aback seeing it in action; the blatant, apparent dislike for one another.

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Although the tension was apparent, the lecture was insightful and interactive. The professor provided detailed information on all media outlets from the Dutch, French and German perspectives; however, I will highlight the newspaper since the readership is drastically different from the United States. I was surprised to learn that although we were told journalism sustained a 10% decrease over the last several years, people in Belgium prefer reading a newspaper in hard copy versus online. The newspapers were divided between quality (straight, unbiased news) and popular newspapers (tabloid). Het Nieuwsblad, a popular newspaper, sells 300,000 copies daily which is 65% of population, most have subscriptions, (versus buying a single copy), and 50% of subscribers have never read the newspaper on line, although an online version is offered. They have no national newspaper, only regional and local papers.

The three official languages of Belgium are French, Dutch, and German. In Belgium most citizens speak both French and Dutch; however, French is spoken more often. There are over 800 foreign correspondents in Belgium, who we learned, tend to rely on French media versus the Flemish (Dutch) media for their international news. In response, the Flemish government financed the only English-version newspaper, Flanders Today, to target the international community as English is “la lingua franca.” The goal of the Flemish government is to shift some of that French reliance to Flemish.

Our optional, but encouraged, group trip…..

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The first part of the tour was pretty typical. The walls were adorned with photos of dead people who were important to the overall story which told the history of the Royal Palace. We herded from room to room, and floor to floor, took some photos, read the captions, you know the usual boring stuff. There were a ton of steps and by the end of the day, my feet, hips, buns and thighs ached with fatigue. And did I mention it was also warm in those rooms? Just when I was about to request the return of my 5 euro, we ventured down to the basement to view the old palace of Brussels at Coudenberg. We had to punch in a secret three digit code to unlock the secret behind a security door.

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The temperature was very cool. This did not even seem part of the same museum. There were was en entire second palace underneath the first palace. We spent two hours in Coudenberg, home to “governor-generals of the Low Countries, who represented the sovereigns, the Hapsburgs of Spain and Austria”. The princes and princesses were loyal servants to the emperor or king with their primary responsibility being the upkeep of their palace and promoting the arts. We saw the chapel, Hoosstraeten House, Rue Isabella, Aula Magna, and an exhibition room full of art and culture. One cohort member remarked she could feel the spirit of Leopold the I (Belgium’s first ruler).

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