A plotline in favour of a vegan diet in the daily TV soap Familie on the Flemish commercial channel VTM has earned its parent company, DPG Media, a fine of €25,000 from the Flemish media regulator.
Familie is one of two daily soaps engaged in a ferocious ratings battle with its rival, Thuis on the public broadcaster VRT. Both are what used to be called kitchen-sink dramas, as the names – Family and Home respectively – suggest.
Early last year, Familie introduced a storyline in which one of the characters, who runs a food bar, introduces a line of vegan sandwiches along with his usual range. The character, Zjef, is himself a vegan, and his decision sets off a lengthy discussion on the benefits of a vegan diet and the need to protect animals from the food industry.
In the closing credits of each episode, the cooperation of animal rights group GAIA was announced to the show’s 800,000 viewers.
It later emerged that GAIA was not only the inspiration for the plotline, but the organisation had paid a sum of money – so far undeclared – for the inclusion of the plotline in the series.
The revelation appeared to make few waves. The farmers’ union Boerenbond issued a statement: “The uproar that has arisen is an internal conversation pulled out of context by the media and blown up into a caricature,” the organisation said. “We embrace both animal and vegetable products when they originate from agriculture.”
GAIA itself was surprised by the controversy. The organisation has long been an advertiser with VTM’s parent company DGP Media.
“We asked VTM whether there were any other ways to put our campaign in the spotlight,” said GAIA director Ann De Greef.
“Then VTM came up with the idea of collaborating on several episodes of Familie. We are simply making use of that possibility, like other organizations do. VLAM [the Flemish Centre for Agricultural and Fisheries Marketing] also regularly broadcasts commercials on TV to encourage people to consume more meat and dairy products, but with government money.”
The media regulator thought otherwise, and fined VTM €25,000. The activities of GAIA do not fall within the regulator’s remit, and the organisation pays nothing.