Gosh, what a lame joke
I can't believe Walloon TV acutally did this
Independence hoax leads to investigation of public broadcaster
The Associated Press
Published: 2006-12-14 04:20:12
BRUSSELS, Belgium: Political leaders reacted with outrage Thursday to a hoax newscast by state television in Belgium's French-speaking region announcing that the Dutch-speaking part of the country had declared independence.
Frantic viewers flooded the call center of the RTBF broadcaster during Wednesday evening's program and embassies called Belgian authorities to find out what was going on.
"Embassies and ambassadors who were worried asked what they had to tell their capitals," said Senate Chair Anne-Marie Lizin. "This fiction was seen as a reality and it created a catastrophic image of the country."
The broadcaster RTBF said the program showed the importance of debate on the future of Belgium. There has been 20 years of relative linguistic calm in Belgium since far-reaching autonomy was granted in the 1980s to the Flemish Dutch-speakers and the francophones from Wallonia and Brussels.
"A bad joke that shows bad taste
," said Didier Seeuws, spokesman for Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, after the prime-time broadcast.
He said it was "task of public broadcasters to inform the public correctly, not to create confusion."
The RTBF's phony newscast reported that the "Flemish parliament has unilaterally declared the independence of Flanders" and that King Albert and Queen Paola had fled the country on an air force plane.
It showed fuzzy pictures of people walking to a plane in the dark of night on a military airfield near Brussels and a small crowd of pro-monarchy demonstrators outside the royal palace waving the Belgian flag.
Yves Thiran, the station's information and ethics director, defended the newscast saying it showed the "importance of a topical political debate, the debate about the future of Belgium."
The francophone regional government, Belgium's French-speaking southern half, demanded an investigation into the extraordinary half-hour newscast, which interrupted regular programming at 2022 (1922GMT). Fadila Lanaan, the francophone media minister, said she will call RTBF officials on the carpet about what she called the "scandalous" newscast.
"I also question the ethics of journalists who worked on this program," she said.
Elio di Rupo, leader of the French-speaking socialist party, said the coup d'etat report questioned the future of the Belgian monarchy, which is seen as the glue that holds a country of 6 million Dutch-speakers and 4.5 million francophones together as a state.
Independence for Flanders is not a burning political issue. It is embraced only by the far-right Flemish Interest party which opposes multiculturalism and considers Wallonia a freeloader.
"Flanders has a gross domestic product nearly 25 percent higher than Wallonia. Flanders wants to combat welfare abuses, but Walloon politicians refuse to do so," says Frank Vanhecke, the leader of the Flemish Interest Party, on the pro-secessionist Flemish Republic web site.
"For many decades the free-market oriented Flemings have been subsidizing Socialist-dominated Wallonia. The Belgian Constitution gives the Francophones 50 percent of political power and a veto over major issues, which makes the French-speakers act as if they are the majority. The Flemings have had enough," says Vanhecke, whose party polls about 25 percent of the vote in Flanders.