Media minister recognises 35 radio stations and prepares local TV for future

Summary

The stations will be able to request a licence and go on air from January, as the local media landscape is reformed

Multi-platform presence

Flanders’ media minister has officially recognised 35 local radio stations, which will now be able to request a broadcast licence from the Flemish media regulator and start broadcasting from January next year.

The move is part of Sven Gatz’s reform of the radio landscape in Flanders, which also includes preparing region-wide stations like Q Music, Joe FM and Nostalgie for the switch from analogue to digital (DAB+) in 2022.

The plan includes rationalising the numerous local radio stations by bundling radio frequencies into packages, a move designed to prevent competition for any one frequency while still allowing maximum diversity across the dial. Frequency packages will give stations a wider reach while still allowing them to maintain their local character, Gatz said.

Potential radio stations were allowed to apply until 14 June, by which time 236 applications had been received, 14 of them for region-wide networks. That led to the recognition this week of 35 stations, with more to come.

“These are local radio broadcasters who were in the main the only bidders for a particular frequency package,” Gatz (pictured) said. “They can now prepare their case to submit to the VRM for a broadcast licence.”

Meanwhile, the Flemish government has approved a white paper Gatz prepared on the future of regional television in Flanders, aimed at assuring the survival of local TV stations.

The governing media decree charges local TV with providing television coverage of news and culture in a defined area, such as Antwerp or Limburg. The stations are meant to be independent and pluralistic and to draw most of their income from advertising and sponsorship.

Under a previous regulation, stations were allowed to work together to pool resources and extend their viewer reach, and receive a subsidy of €185,000 a year. Cable distributors Proximus and Telenet were required to pay a total of €6 million to carry their broadcasts, in an effort to extract the stations from financial difficulties.

Gatz’s new paper covers matters such as allowing local TV stations to work with other media organisations to achieve multi-platform presence – radio, print and online – in an effort to create economies of scale. It also opens the door to more co-operation between local TV and the Flemish public broadcaster, VRT, as well as providing better access to the advertising body RTVM for more accurate viewing figures.

Photo: Alexander Meeus