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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 15:21 GMT
The press in Belgium
Belgian press profile

Belgium's 10 million people are served by some 30 daily papers, which reflect the country's unique cultural and linguistic mix.

The large Dutch- and French-speaking communities are well catered for, while a small German-speaking minority in the east also has its own daily.

This sense of regional identity is reinforced by a broad range of local titles, some of which sell as many copies as their national counterparts.

But Belgium is not a country of avid newspaper readers, with official figures showing that only 160 copies are sold for every 1,000 inhabitants. This ranks the Belgians alongside the French, but leaves them trailing far behind their neighbours in Germany, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. Most of the readership is concentrated in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of the country, which accounts for almost two-thirds of national newspaper sales.

Since the 1960s, newspaper ownership has undergone a process of consolidation, with family businesses gradually giving way to banks and other financial institutions. As a result, the number of newspapers has fallen, and some local titles feature much of the content available in their national stable mates. The leading newspaper proprietors tend to focus their interest on titles in their own communities, although the Flemish market-leader VUM has broken this trend by acquiring a stake in one of the leading French-language dailies.

While circulation has fallen over the last five years among national and regional dailies, this has not, however, led to an overall decline in income. Cover prices have crept up and advertising revenue has risen sharply. But publishers still need to be on their guard: the growth in internet use, the falling number of young people reading newspapers and the popularity of free titles, particularly amongst commuters, all present challenges for the future.

Main papers

Le Soir

Based: Brussels
Founded: 1887
Circulation: 101,000 (2003)
Owner: Rossel et Cie SA

Le Soir has the highest circulation among Belgium's French-language dailies. One of the country's oldest titles, the paper tends towards the centre of the political spectrum, and caters to a broad cross-section of Belgian society. Almost half of its readers live in and around Brussels. Supplements are published on a daily basis, covering topics ranging from sport and culture to property and finance.

Het Laatste Nieuws

Based: Asse-Kobbegem
Founded: 1888
Circulation: 288,000 (2004)
Owner: De Persgroep

Het Laatste Nieuws ("The Latest News") is Belgium's biggest-selling national daily. Based near Brussels and publishing in Dutch, it draws more than 90% of its readers from the Flemish population. Its outlook is liberal, while its approach to news coverage is serious.

Het Nieuwsblad

Based: Groot Bijgaarden, nr Brussels
Founded: 1923
Circulation: 211,000 (2004)
Owner: VUM

Het Nieuwsblad ("The Newspaper") is the influential VUM group's largest-selling daily. One of Belgium's most popular titles, it describes itself as "a cheerful, lively newspaper offering the broadest view of local and international news". Along with its Ghent edition De Gentenaar, the paper vies with Het Laatste Nieuws for a leading share in the Flemish market. In September 2003, Het Nieuwsblad, which claims to be "mad about sport", became the first Flanders daily to start publishing on Sundays.

Het Volk

Based: Groot Bijgaarden, nr Brussels
Founded: 1892
Circulation: 82,000 (2004)
Owner: VUM

Another of the titles owned by the VUM group, Het Volk has passed through a number of incarnations since it was founded at the end of the 19th century. Originally owned by the Catholic labour movement, it was at one time regarded as a socialist mouthpiece, but is now seen as the most right-leaning of the national dailies. Het Volk's own web site, meanwhile, says it follows "an independent line from a Christian and social foundation". It was the first Belgian national paper to launch its own website.

Vers l'avenir

Based: Namur
Founded: 1918
Circulation: 100,000 (2004)
Owner: Mediabel

The French-language daily Vers l'avenir ("Towards The Future") originates from the southern town of Namur, but is read by Francophones throughout Belgium. It has a strong Catholic tradition, and a quarter of the paper's shares are still owned by the diocese of Namur. The Flemish media group VUM also owns a substantial share, but has promised to respect the paper's Catholic roots.

De Standaard

Based: Groot Bijgaarden, nr Brussels
Founded: 1917
Circulation: 84,000 (2004)
Owner: VUM

De Standaard is owned by the VUM group, and is viewed by many as the most authoritative daily available to the Flemish population. Promoting itself as "the newspaper for decision-makers and influential people in Flanders", it publishes a daily 12-page supplement on business and finance. It has also managed to boost its popularity among younger readers in recent years, and broadened its appeal further in March 2004 by launching a compact edition alongside its usual broadsheet version.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Country profile: Belgium
18 May 04 |  Country profiles


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