Following the results of last month’s election for the Flemish parliament, far-right party Vlaams Belang now has two seats on the 12-member board of the Flemish public broadcaster VRT.
Vlaams Belang took one seat from each of SP.A and CD&V, while N-VA, the largest party, held onto its four seats. The result means that Flemish nationalist parties now make up half of the VRT board.
The composition of the board is intended to reflect the make-up of the seats in the Flemish parliament. On paper, nothing changes for N-VA, who in the past five years has not spared the VRT from criticism of political bias.
Vlaams Belang, however, made clear that it expects change from the new board, which sets the main lines of the broadcaster’s strategy.
“This is an unprecedented chance to tackle the prejudice of some VRT programmes from the inside out,” said Chris Janssens, a member of the Flemish parliament. Speaking on the VRT current affairs programme De Afspraak, Janssens laid out a few of his party’s priorities: the scrapping of quotas for particular population groups who appear on TV; more diversity in the opinions presented in news and documentaries; and more Flemish music on the airwaves. “There’s something to be said for that, since the public broadcaster is financed with Flemish tax revenue, and needs to have more attention for the Flemish identity – far more than is now the case.”
However, it is by no means certain that the two right-wing parties will form a block on the board. Firstly, they do not have a majority. Secondly, whilst N-VA leader Bart De Wever kicked off his exploratory talks for the formation of a new Flemish government with a meeting with Vlaams Belang, a second meeting held this week does not seem to have gone so smoothly.
According to one sitting board member, the panel does not exercise control over the day to day activities of the broadcaster.
“You shouldn’t overestimate the direct influence,” the unidentified board member told Bruzz. “Journalistically there is none, although we do have talks with the news service once a year. But we don’t determine the broadcast schedule.”
Furthermore, consequent to its election results, Vlaams Belang also occupies places on the boards of other cultural organisations; Ancienne Belgique and the Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS) for instance.
On the Walloon side, the distribution of seats on the board of the broadcaster RTBF has yet to be finalised, but the far-left PTB seems set to take up two seats, based on its election results for the parliament of the French Community. The socialist party PS has four seats, with conservatives MR on three or four from a total of 13 seats.