Via France 24
Belgians fall for media spoof on Flemish independence
Belgians were still recovering after a television channel announced in a spoof programme overnight that the Flemish part of the country had declared independence and that Belgium was no more.
Some six months before the probable renegotiation of powers between Belgium’s French- and Dutch-speaking communities, the RTBF programme raised inter-communal tensions with its “breaking news” style programme on Wednesday evening.
To back up the prime time report, RTBF aired “live” footage of trams blocked at the new “border” and interviewed real-life politicians welcoming or denouncing the Flemish parliament’s unilateral declaration of independence.
The exercise was only intended as a thought-provoking introduction to a debate on a question which has long divided the two halves of Belgium.
But an overwhelming number of viewers were fooled and the station’s switchboard was jammed by panicked callers.
“I’m 39 years old, and I’m not really what you would call the sensitive type, but I cried,” said one viewer, Caroline Case, in a letter to Thursday’s Libre Belgique newspaper.
“The Fiction that Shook Belgium,” screamed the paper’s front page, while Le Soir daily headlined with: “Belgium Died Last Night”.
Political leaders had only one word for the stunt: irresponsible.
“It’s very bad Orson Welles, in very poor taste,” Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt’s spokesman told the Belga news agency, recalling the 1938 radio adaptation by Welles of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” which caused widespread chaos, with thousands of Americans actually believing the Martians had invaded.
“In the current context, it’s irresponsible for a public television channel to announce the end of Belgium as a reality presented by genuine journalists,” he said.
Francophone socialist party leader Elio Di Rupo told Le Soir: “At a time when our country is rocked by separatist leanings, it is irresponsible and anti-social to make people believe that the Flemish have voted for independence.”
The fact that the programme was on state-funded television also rankled.
“This programme is irresponsible. It totally discredits an institution that the French community has put a lot of investment into,” said Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders.
At the beginning of the broadcast, RTBF displayed a message at the bottom of the screen “this is perhaps not a fiction”.
That, too, was an echo from the past, recalling “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, or this is not a pipe, the title of the painting by Belgian Surrealist master Rene Magritte.
But half an hour in, at the demand of the minister for audiovisual affairs for the French-speaking community, Fadila Laanan, the message “this is fiction” appeared.
“I find it questionable to use such a tactic, which frightened people unbelievably,” Laanan declared. She said that she herself had received a number of panicky calls and text messages.
The channel invited viewers to text messages to say whether they had been fooled, and according to early results, 89 percent said they had believed the programme at first.
A diehard six percent continued to believe it even after they were told it was a hoax.
A special number given out at the beginning of the programme was flooded with over 2,600 calls during the nearly two-hour spoof and the television’s website crashed.
Even some ambassadors in Brussels admitted to being taken in and sending back messages to their respective capitals, according to the president of the Belgian Senate.
Around six million of Belgium’s 10.5 million people live in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, 3.5 million in French-speaking Wallonia, and one million in Brussels.
Today the country’s richest region, Flanders remains troubled by painful memories from the 19th century when the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, who spoke French whether they were from Wallonia or Flanders, held sway.
God, im still hungover after last night hence no morning briefing this morning as i had exam yesterday and then proceeded to get very drunk!