Belgium, a symbol of unity-in-diversity

15 12 2009

In a 2,500 word opinion piece in The Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell opens with:

Ever since it was carved by treaty out of the Dutch, French, and German borderlands after the Napoleonic wars, Belgium has been an odd kind of country–short on space, sunlight, and national identity.

This is an interesting read and firmly grounds the media representation of Belgium in political turmoil, linguistic conflict, cultural stereotypes and economic (in)stability. I’m adding Mr. Caldwell to my list of people to interview about my new research project.

“Nothing happens over the weekend in Belgium”

9 12 2009

Derek Blyth interview @ Corelio, 3 Dec. 2009

Background: Derek Blyth (DB) is the editor-in-chief of news weeklies The Bulletin and Flanders Today. Both titles are targeted at the international community in Flanders. The Bulletin and Flanders Today are published by Ackroyd, a Corelio subsidiary since 2007.

Flanders Today was authorized by then Flemish minister for Foreign Affairs and Media Geert Bourgeois. Its aim is to inform international diplomats, EU officials, foreign journalists, tourists and foreign students about Flanders.

The Bulletin was launched by Monique Ackroyd in 1962. It has since become Belgium’s oldest news magazine and one of the most successful English language magazines in continental Europe. It has an estimated readership of 52,000 readers weekly in and around Brussels.

Boilerplates & slogans:

  • “The Bulletin is Brussels’ essential English-language weekly magazine. Published in the capital of Europe since 1962, it is continental Europe’s most successful English-language publication.”
  • “Flanders Today is an independent weekly newsmagazine about Flanders”
  • “Uncover Brussels with The Bulletin”
  • Ackroyd Publications is a well-known publisher of English language periodicals for the international community in Belgium, and serves just about every segment of this niche market. Ackroyd Publications also owns 50% of the capital behind, a joint venture with ING.”

I meet DB in the Corelio lobby at 10:30 and we take the elevator to the third floor. I meet Nina Lamparski (The Bulletin lifestyle editor) who had suggested that I talk to DB. She hands me a copy of the latest issue of The Bulletin and tweets my arrival as DB and I go into his office. I take a seat and ask if I can record the interview. DB agrees. Total interview time is one hour and five minutes.


(0:34-2:00) The rationale for Flanders Today =  a Flemish answer to the dominating Francophone press
“so it’s a very one-sided view of Flanders”
“no politics behind it”

We talk about how Corelio won the tender for the Flanders Today project and where the funding comes from (Flemish government – Dept. Vlaanderen Internationaal & some advertising). DB tells me

  • that Flanders Today is a two man operation (Lisa Bradshaw is the Deputy Editor);
  • that the Flanders Today website “doesn’t have a life of its own”; and
  • that “we have a big team of freelancers”

(08:05-9:50) DB on the Flanders Today editorial policy:
“we’re encouraged to have stories on science”
“Brussels of course is part of the idea of Flanders”
“encourage people to learn the language”

10′ mark: Flanders Today has 13,000 subscribers and 23,000 copies are printed every week

(14:10-14:56) Having done a google search for ‘Flanders’, DB comments:
“There is no easy way of finding out about Flanders”

On the media representation of Flanders and lack of policy (in relation to critical discourse moments à la Van Rompuy’s election)

(16:43-18:05) DB: “Perhaps there should be in the background a policy of creating an image that’s independent of these unique events”
TVH: “And there’s no such policy at the moment?”
DB: “I don’t see any policy at the moment…The Flanders Houses seem to be promoting tourism and business, not image”

On news selection, generation  & content:

  • part of the coverage of the Flanders Today website is syndicated content (Flanders news) generated by VRT journalists
  • news in the ‘press room’ section is translated from Flemish media by Mediargus (“a service that is mainly targeting journalists)
  • (22′ mark) “we’re looking for stories about what Flemish government is deciding” > DS & DM coverage sets the Flanders Today agenda (30′ mark)
  • Anje Otte (DS) is Flanders Today’s independent political commentator
  • on standards of journalism and production pressures
  • “generally speaking nothing happens over the weekend in Belgium…it’s a disaster”
  • “our mission is to report on Flanders in a neutral way” (50′ mark)
  • on selecting news: “we have to simplify…we have to think about our readers”

(52:12-52:22) “I like to think we’re the only truly independent media in Belgium”

(53′ mark) On the relationship with Wallonia

  • The Bulletin used to be a Francophone publication;
  • majority of foreign journalists speak French,
  • impression of Brussels is that of a French speaking city;
  • European institutions still have a Francophone culture
  • Walloon government publishes a 3-monthly newszine (in English) on Wallonia (content is largely decided by the Walloon agency for foreign relations)

Flanders, ‘land’ of a thousand clichés

11 06 2009

The Guardian is running a ‘luxury break’ competition. “You and a friend could experience European chic in style”. This is how the advertorial describes Flanders:

Flanders is one of Europe’s hidden gems. Home to stunning architecture, fantastic art, great food, brilliant bars and chic fashion boutiques, it has something for everyone.

And there’s loads to explore – the Flemish-speaking area of Belgium encompasses such delights as Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Leuven, Mechelen, and Ostend and its coast. If you love city breaks, you’ll love Flanders.

There’s a video demonstrating just how European chic Flanders is. To many people, Flanders is incredibly dull. Jeremy Clarkson thinks so. When I lived in the States, some of my friends thought Flanders was a socialist hell hole. Flanders is also often associated with the right wing reputation of Vlaams Belang. What images, stereotypes, jokes, etc do you associate with Flanders?

Desperately seeking confidence: Fortis

26 09 2008

ResearchBlogging.orgIn response to continuing market rumors about its solvency, Belgian bank Fortis has issued a remarkable – and poorly written – press release (.pdf, reprinted verbatim in De Tijd) underlining “the solid position of the bank” and confirming speculation that the bank is preparing to put a “wider range of activities of assets” up for sale.

**UPDATE: Fortis nominates new CEO**

The tone of the press release is remarkably affirmative and confident. Usually, economic press releases make a sport out of hedging truth claims (see McLaren-Hankin 2008, Smart 2006) in an attempt to limit company liability if the unexpected happens (i.e.  if the company’s expectations do not materialize). Not here though: phrases like “customer moves have remained limited”, “concrete interest of potential buyers is indicated” and “Preparations are made to fully integrate the ABN AMRO Private Banking activities” are clearly targeted at “boost[ing] predictions in the face of apparent contradiction or doubt on the part of others” (Donohue 2006: 204).

Alas, investors were not convinced: Fortis again bled red ink as shares prices continued to fall. Here’s my prediction: this storm will not be weathered anytime soon. Expect more Fortis drama.

  • Donohue, James P. (2006). How to support a one-handed economist: The role of modalisation in economic forecasting. English for Specific Purposes 25 (2): 200-216. doi:10.1016/j.esp.2005.02.009
  • Y. McLaren-Hankin (2008). `We expect to report on significant progress in our product pipeline in the coming year’: hedging forward-looking statements in corporate press releases Discourse Studies, 10 (5), 635-654 DOI: 10.1177/1461445608094216
  • Smart, Graham (2006). Writing the Economy: Activity, Genre, and Technology in the World of Banking. London: Equinox Publishing.

I’ll have the MSc special. With fries.

25 09 2008

The 1999 Bologna Declaration reformed European higher education in at least two fundamental ways: the introduction of Bachelor-Master curricula and the promotion of teacher and student mobility. Flanders responded by implementing a two-tier system of higher education with professional and academic degree programs governed by 5 awarding bodies, i.e. inter-institutional associations between universities and university colleges.

At present, there are five such associations in Flanders (.pdf, p19):
• the K.U. Leuven Association
• the Ghent University Association
• the Antwerp University Association
• Brussels University Association
• the Universiteit – Hogescholen Limburg Association.

All associations are secular, bar Leuven, which honors a Roman Catholic denomination. The K.U. Leuven Association is also the largest, with 13 institutions of higher learning. As of 2012, the K.U. Leuven Association will adopt a ‘multicampus’ model (in Dutch); spread over 13 cities, no fewer than 21 campuses will be able to award KU Leuven university degrees. Send me an email if you want one, too.

In a response to an opinion piece (both in Dutch), K.U. Leuven Association Dean André Oosterlinck argues that this move will benefit the research quality (and thus output) of university colleges. In the words of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard: nigga, please. University college personnel is understaffed and overworked. When are they supposed to conduct research? Apply for research grants? Publish?