VRT news anchor Martine Tanghe signs off for last time

Summary

One of the most familiar faces in Flanders, VRT news anchor Martine Tanghe, has delivered her final broadcast and is now officially retired

‘Best news anchor in Belgian history’

VRT news anchor Martine Tanghe, one of the most familiar media personalities in Flanders, delivered her final broadcast yesterday evening. At 65, she is retiring after more than 40 years of service to the public broadcaster.

After graduating with a degree in languages from KU Leuven, Tanghe started at the VRT in 1978. She had managed to pass the famously tough entrance exam to work for the public broadcaster. “I didn’t even have a television at the time,” she said on a programme in 2003. “I bought one after I passed the exam. I was young, inexperienced and right out of the classroom, and I landed in a strange new world.”

A few months later, she became the first woman in Flanders to deliver televised news. “There was no training: You were thrown to the lions, and it worked or it didn’t,” she said in a TV talk show in 1993. “My colleague Bavo Claes sat next to me on the floor so he could step in quickly if I froze. That that turned out not to be necessary.”

‘Where is the reporter, did you not bring a reporter?’ It didn’t occur to him that the reporter could be a woman

- Martine Tanghe

It wasn’t just her colleagues who had little faith in her talent at the time, but also the public. She once shared on a talk show an experience that capsulised her first 15 or so years in the business. “I remember once I had to go on-site in Zaventem to report on a strike. I arrived with my camera crew, and the man I needed to interview came towards me, walked right past me and asked the cameramen: ‘Where is the reporter, did you not bring a reporter?’ It didn’t occur to him that the reporter could be a woman.”

Tanghe was eventually known as “the mother of all news anchors”. During her final evening anchoring the news yesterday, correspondents providing live reports from Antwerp to America could not help but give her a send-off, one by one. “It was an honour and a pleasure to have worked with you for all of these years,” said Ivan Ollevier, reporting from Utrecht.

Sports correspondent Maarten Vangramberen ended his segment by saying that it was an honour for all the sport anchors to work with someone who was such a sports fan. “There is so much experience sitting in that chair right now that we are going to miss so very much,” he concluded.

Martine Tanghe delivering the news in the 1970s  ©VRT

The most touching remarks came from Bjorn Soenens, VRT’s correspondent in the United States. “It pains me that you are leaving us,” he said from the streets of New York. “We must be honest: You were the best news anchor in Belgian history. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. What will Flanders be without you? What will I be without you? I grew up with you. There are so many beautiful moments to look back on and so much to look forward to, with your children and grandchildren. I have to think about the saying: Nothing stays the same, everything ends. Except for you, Martine. You were a genuinely good person, and you are a monument in your field. Thank you.”

Even Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA) did not miss the chance to thank Tanghe for her years of service to the region following an interview about shops re-opening. “Martine Tanghe has been in our living rooms for 42 years,” he said, “with good news – and sometimes less than good news. Her retirement is the end of an era, and I think that Flanders will miss her terribly.”

How bad an example is it that the government shows the door to its own staff when they reach 65?

Tanghe’s retirement isn’t a choice, by the way: As in all federal and Flemish government concerns and many private companies, VRT employees must retire when they reach retirement age. That is currently 65, and will go up to 66 by 2025 and to 67 by 2030. It’s not known if Tanghe would have stayed longer had she been allowed to.

Stijn Baert, senior lecturer in labour economy at Ghent University, published an opinion piece on the VRT news site noting that it is the same for his colleagues. He condemned the policy, calling it “brutal” and hypocritical, considering that politicians themselves do not have to retire at 65.

“How bad an example is it that the government shows the door to its own staff when they reach 65?” wrote Baert. “As if these people suddenly have no more value. In fact the government is saying to the entire public: ‘You absolutely need to work longer, but, really, we don’t think that you can manage to perform when you are older. Even if you see it differently’.”

Photo top: ©Lies Willaert/VRT