VRT facing a new round of heavy cuts

The Flemish public broadcaster VRT is heading for another round of cost-cutting measures. The news does not come as a surprise, as the new Flemish government had announced fresh cuts, but now concrete figures have been mentioned in various press reports. Luc Van den Brande, Chairman of the Board of Directors at the VRT, has warned that "the cuts will go deep."

The VRT made the headlines in various dailies this morning. De Tijd writes that the VRT will have to take austerity measures worth 27 million euros by 2019. More than half of that effort, 15 million, will have to be made next year. That's 5 percent of the annual budget of 300 million euros.

The area of Media and Culture in the Flemish government used to be in the hands of the Flemish socialists. However, the socialists have been ousted and the new government is now a coalition of Flemish nationalists, Christian democrats and liberals. The area of Media and Culture is now in the hands of the Flemish liberals. Minister Sven Gatz is expected to cooperate closely with his colleague Bart Tommelein, who told De Standaard "there are opportunities for cuts at the VRT. (...) There is a lot of staff working there, if you compare it to other public broadcasters or commercial stations."

Luc Vandenhoeck of the socialist trades union ACOD puts things into perspective: "We made a European benchmarking effort for the occasion of the previous round of cuts. The VRT turned out to be one of the cheapest broadcasters with a cost of 46 euros per capita."

"This will be felt by both viewers and staff"

The third TV channel OP12, introduced by the previous socialist Media Minister Ingrid Lieten, will see its role strongly reduced. There are also talks of selling the VRT radio station MNM, but these are just rumours at present. Bart Tommelein estimates that the VRT is "holding a position in the Flemish radio landscape that is too dominant." He also thinks there is too much publicity at the VRT: "Foreigners tuning in on the VRT, think it's a commercial station."  

Luc Van den Brande has admitted that the VRT is facing cuts, "but we will only know the exact scope when the Flemish budget is being presented in September." He did not want to confirm or deny the figure of 27 million mentioned by De Tijd, but he did tell the daily that "the cuts will go deep." He added that the consequences will be felt by viewers, and also by VRT staff. The number of people that can be made redundant through (early) retirement is being overestimated by the Flemish government though, he warns.

Staff number reduction totalling 11%

It's not the first time the VRT is facing a budget reduction in recent years. Over 100 million has been cut since 2007. Staff numbers saw an 11 percent reduction, which equals over 300 full-time positions. "I don't know how they think they can make these new big cuts", Luc Vandenhoeck said. The VRT will have to make some difficult choices in the coming months, analysts conclude.