Media legislation

As mentioned, authority over cultural affairs resides with the language communities: A 1980 law specifies radio and television as cultural affairs. Basic rules can be found in media decrees, which are discussed by the Parliament and specified by the Minister of Media of the respective language communities. These media decrees stipulate the conditions by which television and radio broadcasters (both public and commercial) as well as cable operators must abide. Media decrees have evolved gradually over time and are subject to revision. In most cases, Parliaments implement European directives such as the Audiovisual Media Services Directive and the Satellite and Cable Directive into community law. However, there is ample room for specific legal initiatives, such as the requirement for television distributors (cable, IPTV etc.) to participate in the financing of Flemish fiction series (known as ‘Stimuleringsregeling voor audiovisuele sector’).

Beside the communities, which are responsible for media affairs, the federal government remains the authorised support system for the press. Indirect government support, aimed to help the newspaper market as a whole, is organised at the federal level. The most important of these subsidies are favourable rates for postal delivery. It is estimated that the federal government annually pays “bpost” about € 170 million to distribute Belgian newspapers and magazines (in 2015, the five-year contract was renewed for € 850 million). Moreover, news media enjoy a 0 percent VAT regime; this applies to all newspapers and magazines with informative content for the general public that appear at least 50 times a year (in contrast to digital media, which are taxed at a 21 percent VAT rate). It is estimated that the 0 percent VAT regime costs the government about € 120 million per year. Whereas press publishers deem these measures necessary in order to fulfil their democratic role, Media21 claims that these measures are disproportionate and counterproductive for the innovation of digital journalism.