Flemish public broadcaster VRT's decision to cut a sequence from its satirical programme "De Ideale Wereld" following criticism from a Vlaams Belang-associated board member, has sparked a lively debate in Flanders.
The sequence dates back to 30 April and concerns a joke by Flemish comedian Geert Hoste, in which he says that Vlaams Belang members do a Hitler salute to recognise each other when wearing a mask.
Olivier Goris, the director of programmes on the VRT's television channels Eén and Canvas, is said to have apologised to the entire board of directors.
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"Political pressure was obviously exerted through the board of directors and its president gave in. That is the biggest problem," said Groen deputy Elisabeth Meuleman, chair of the Flemish parliament's media committee. "This is a dangerous precedent," she underlined.
"The Ombudsman should normally be consulted. The board of directors should not deal with the content of the programmes," Meuleman added, saying that "we are close to what can be called censorship."
"This sends a completely wrong signal," Hannelore Goeman of the Dutch-speaking socialist party agreed.
"The fact that the far right has managed to get the board of directors to change the content of a programme is very worrying," said Katia Segers, a parliamentarian and media specialist.
"The VRT must never bow to political pressure. We must absolutely avoid reverting to a politicized public channel. VRT is strong enough not to give in to these pressures," she added.
Parties to the right of the political spectrum have commented as well. "If the VRT has indeed acceded to the request of its Vlaams Belang director, we have a fundamental problem", said liberal parliamentarian Stephanie D'Hose.
Vlaams Belang itself introduced a resolution against media censorship in the plenary session of the Flemish Parliament on Wednesday, D'Hose pointed out.
Flemish Christian-democrat Sammy Mahdi also reacted. "Attempting to silence the public broadcaster. I would almost dare to say that these are Nazi practices," he tweeted.
The VRT's management is expected in Flemish Parliament on Thursday afternoon to present its annual report for 2019.
The Brussels Times