Mathew Lowry

And from flandersnews.be, via Andy Carling (@quarsan) comes the important news that:

Flemings good at sorting their rubbish

The amount of non-recyclable rubbish Flemings put out for collection continues to fall.screenshot from Flanders today

Really! Yep, it’s true. You can read all about it here if you like.

Now this post started life as a throwaway tweet by Andy, who pointed to it when it was apparently the Top Story on the FlandersNews site. Apart from Tweeting back that I thought it was “Rubbish journalism” (not such a bad quip for a Monday morning), I normally wouldn’t have given it much thought.

Provide the news, set the views

But it lodged somewhere in my brain next to the factoid, mentioned by someone the other day, that most foreign correspondents here in Brussels get their news on Belgian affairs from the RTBF (the public francophone media), simply because more of them speak French than Dutch.

Ouch. As I’ve mentioned before, the RTBF often seems intent to make the gulf separating the two halves of this benighted country deeper, “to the point that (Flemish) PM Yves Leterme once likened them to Radio Mille Collines, a Rwandan radio station implicated in genocide”.

So what would you do, if you were Flemish and needed to get your community’s view across to the foreign correspondents living in your capital city (yep, Brussels is both Belgium’s and Flanders’ capital)? Answer: the tri-language Flandersnews.be site and the English print weekly FlandersToday, with their gripping news about the rubbish-sorting virtues of the Flemish, brought to you by Flanders’ public broadcaster, VRT.

I’m probably being unfair – to begin with, I’m sure it’s generally a high-quality newsmedia, the above article notwithstanding.

But I never read it, so I wouldn’t know, which leads me to ask: is there’s really a market for this content? If there wasn’t a political reason to provide this content in English, would it exist?

I’m going out on a limb here to venture “perhaps not”.

News for politics

Does it matter? Well, it does if you care about quality journalism – once you start producing news for political reasons, the editors and journalists producing it don’t need to care about readership, paper sales, traffic, links or any other indicator that readers actually care about the content.

Result: articles lauding the rubbish-sorting abilities of the ethnic group paying the journalists’ salaries. It’s ‘news-like’, but it’s not really news, because true editorial criteria were not applied.

Which, naturally, brings me to some of the media initiatives of the EU Institutions. They too pay for ‘news-like’ coverage of activities which only a relative handful of people care about – if interest was widespread, after all, these projects would not exist.

In the process – the theory goes – these projects provide taxpayer-funded competition to the handful of struggling EU media outlets, so stifling the emergence of a healthy media landscape covering EU affairs. And, in the process, journalistic criticism.

And yet …

So here is where I’d love to sign off with a libertarian clarion call for states to provides information (not journalism), as well as e-services and public data, and generally not use taxpayer funds to drive independent media out of business.

I even had a cheery “stay tuned for an article about the high percentage of hybrid electric vehicles used by Commission Eurocrats” remark ready.

I just have one small problem.

The above argument is how the clan Murdoch attacks my cherished BBC. It seems to makes sense – it’s tough being an online news media when you’re competing with the BBC website!

But the BBC also shows that state media can be excellent, and can usefully address ‘market failures’, such as the lack of EU coverage. And the Murdochs show just how low privately run media can go (phone hacking scandals, anyone?).

Having said that, the BBC is an exception – they are as independent as any media can hope to be, and definitely do not deliver services through four-year public procurement contracts.

Still, no easy answers – I honestly can’t close this post with a clear view one way or another, so I’m hoping you’ll help me out via the comments while I get my recycling organised.

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