TV works


The VTM (Vlaamse Televisie Maatschappij) Flemish television broadcasting company, the first Flemish commercial network, started broadcasting on 1st February, 1989, over cable television. Although the idea of breaking up the Flemish public network’s monopoly had already been floated in political circles in the 1970s, a public discussion about commercial television did not gain momentum until the 1980s. In addition to pressure from Flemish business and media circles to exploit the lucrative market of television advertising through a commercial broadcaster, another angle was being discussed. Liberal and conservative politicians maintained that the public broadcasting monopoly was unhealthy for balanced reporting. Besides arguing for the healthy effects of competition in the spheres of information and interpretation, they also contended that the BRT news service had become a left-wing (red) bulwark.

In 1987, a consortium of Flemish daily and weekly newspaper publishers received government permission to launch a broadcasting network in 1989, which would survive through its own advertising income. Against all expectations, including those of the initiators, in some months’ time, the young commercial broadcaster became the market leader, offering the familiar mix of cheap imported material, popular domestic fiction, light informative programmes, quiz shows and other superficial entertainment.

For the BRT, the arrival of VTM was disastrous. The government-supported public broadcasting company thoroughly revised its programming, and audience maximization became the codeword. The network was radically reorganized and a new personnel policy initiated (in 20 years’ time, the number of contracted employees was cut in half). Although VTM did not broadcast any cultural programmes, the definition of culture at the BRTN/VRT was steadily becoming broader and vaguer (cooking programmes were now included under the heading of culture in order to meet the government’s quota for cultural programmes), while the word ‘art’ had to be avoided as much as possible. In 1998, the commercial network changed its name to VMM (Vlaamse Media Maatschappij, Flemish Media Company). Since then, VMM has been engaged in tough competition with other commercial television broadcasters, as well as with the VRT Flemish public broadcasting network. [Daniël Biltereyst]