VRT launches ‘Fans of Flanders’

The Flemish public broadcaster VRT is launching a unique new project, Fans of Flanders. Fans of Flanders is a brand new VRT website in English, but it is also a TV programme.

For some time now the VRT has been aware of the need to do more for international people in Belgium. The website and the TV programme will try to help international people to discover and enjoy all the best things Flanders has to offer.

In addition Fans of Flanders will attempt to ‘explain’ Flanders. Each day the website will offer new videos. The website and the TV programme will also give expats an opportunity to have their say. There is a daily blog online written by an expat. The website is highly ‘interactive’. Readers can also comment and have their say, share and respond to opinion polls. The only conclusion: your involvement is urgently needed and, of course, there will always be an 'Expat of the Week'.

Before launching the project VRT made a strenuous effort to find out what kind of content international people in Flanders and Brussels would like to see. VRT’s Els Van de Sijpe led this operation:

" We thought it was very important to talk to people and find out what expectations expats had of the VRT. We spoke with people who know the international community well. Lengthy conversations were also held with a group of some 50 international people of very diverse heritages to see what they were interested in. We also tested several formats. It was clear people responded well to any attempt to give them a head start in learning Dutch. Chris Dusauchoit will present a weekly video explaining one or other Flemish expression or word. It was also very clear that people were attracted to an internet format. All the content will be available on the internet first, but can also be seen on the TV programme.”

For its news content Fans of Flanders will rely on the VRT's existing English news website flandersnews.be. VRT Online Editor-in-chief Emmanuel Rottey:

"flandersnews was set up nearly eight years ago. Our small team of journalists is able to draw on the resources and expertise of the big VRT News Room. Over the past years flandersnews readers have come to appreciate our fast, unbiased and reliable reporting. Now that VRT is expanding its English language output online and on television, we're very proud to be part of it and will provide the website with news content that meets the highest journalistic standards of the VRT News Room. On TV Fans of Flanders will also include a news round-up made by our journalists."

To produce Fans of Flanders the VRT is working together with Borgerhoff & Lamberigts TV and Boondoggle, the online communications agency.

Videos will predominate on the website. There will be two new videos on the website each and every day of the week. Our content will cover all the fields that international people may be interested in: daily life in Flanders, but also the quirks of the Flemish. Fans of Flanders will be full of suggestions on how you can spend your leisure time, shed light on our history and attempt to explain how Flemish society works and bridge the gap with people who may come from very different backgrounds. You will notice the team has adopted a light-hearted approach.

Conversations with expats also showed that the run up to October’s local elections was a good time to launch as many international people want to know more about how the whole process works. Expat candidates will be featured too.

The President of the VRT, Luc Van den Brande, is one of the people who have made this project possible. He told us: "Planning for the future I discovered a gap. We already do a lot of European and international news, but if we want to say who we are and what we stand for, then we also had to increase our output for the many foreigners in Flanders, this splendid community that lives here among us."

Fans of Flanders is intended for the widest possible audience.

"First we thought we would concentrate on expats, but then we decided to widen the scope. It's an enormous group, people who are sent here by their companies, European civil servants and even students. Let them form part of our society and they will become the best ambassadors."

Mr Van den Brande believes the content online and on TV can work in two directions too:

"We want to provide insight about Flanders and explain who the Flemings are, but it's also important that the Flemish know who these international people are. I hope it will open the eyes of the Flemish too."

Mr Van den Brande, a former Flemish Prime Minister, also hopes that the project will send out a clear signal that Flanders is an open society that doesn't erect any barriers: “Flemings may seem a bit stiff to start off with, but people should also know that openness towards others is part of our history. We sent people out to the four corners of the world. It's in our genes. Four centuries ago there were over 50 nationalities in Antwerp. We've been occupied many times too. We are the result of this international community."

Fans of Flanders is a first in many ways: for the first time in its history the VRT is now making a TV programme in English. ‘Fans of Flanders’ will be broadcast on VRT’s new third channel ‘OP12’ at 8PM on Wednesdays and is repeated every Friday at 7:30PM on the VRT’s second channel, Canvas and of course you are urgently advised to take the time to discover the website. You should enjoy it.