The death has been announced of former journalist Hugo Ridder at the age of 86. De Ridder is considered a pioneer of investigative journalism in the Flemish press. He made his career as a political reporter for De Standaard, but started out in politics itself, as an advisor to former prime minister Leo Tindemans, and speech-writer for another prime minister, Paul Vanden Boeynants.
He turned to journalism in the mid-1960s, and soon gained a reputation as a formidable and dogged investigator. “Together with Manu Ruys, he was one of the stars of the Golden Age,” commented Herman Van Rompuy, former president of the European Council and also – briefly – yet another former prime minister. “De Ridder had no interest in gossip. He was interested in the facts and in witnesses. I admired him as a journalist.”
Among his most striking scoops was in uncovering a scandal involving the RTT, at that time the authority in charge of post and telegraph. Contacted by a whistle-blower engineer, he dug deeper and discovered that members of the socialist party were involved in a plot to award lucrative building contracts to friendly contractors in return for certain favours.
He also revealed the existence of secret discussions on the economic plans of the government of Wilfried Martens, held in the obscure village of Poupehan, part of the city of Bouillon, and involving banking industry and union representatives.
Following his retirement from newspaper journalism, he continued writing, producing biographies of Martens and his successor as PM Jean-Luc Dehaene as well as a memoir and reminiscences of the inner workings of the government machine.
“With the death of Hugo Ridder, journalism in this country has lost a visionary icon who leaves behind an indelible mark,” commented Pol Deltour, secretary-general of the Flemish journalists’ association VVJ.