Media living off advertising: clashes for subsidies

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The advertising logic has become so pervasive that in the eyes of some, the media are no longer considered as a means of disseminating information, but as advertising media. Their funding should therefore come mainly from advertising revenues. The public authorities are steeped in this drift and, in Belgium, the recent debates about support for radio and television channels have revealed the consequences of this perverse logic.

It all started with the will of the Walloon-Brussels Federation to reduce advertising on certain time slots of the RTBF. A small gift to the Ecolos during negotiations for the formation of the majority in June 2019, it took more than a year for a small part of the commitment to moderate advertising on RTBF to materialize. Advertising should therefore be reduced by half during the morning slot on La Première (radio) in September 2020 and then completely eliminated from July 2021. The Minister of Media, the ecologist Bénédicte Linard, motivated this decision as follows: « … to avoid that contents which enlighten the listener on important social issues are not blurred by advertisements which would convey the opposite message « .

One can only agree with this view, but the reduced brains of the liberal austerity managers do not share this view. La Première is not the most important radio station in terms of advertising revenue (that’s Vivacité), but its morning slot still generates €2.8 million in revenue over a year. It represents more than 60% of the audience and advertising revenue. On the 4 months of the end of 2020, RTBF would have a loss of earnings of… 400.000€. It must be said that those who base their profits on broadcast ads are starting to panic: more and more advertisers are turning to Internet advertising and the good money they were hoping for is going to the GAFAs. So, for the boss of the Régie Média Belge (RMB), 400.000 € lost is already too much:  » While we will lose a million euros this year because of Covid-19, while we are going through a crisis where everyone is losing money, while the budget of the Walloon-Brussels Federation will be heavily impacted by everything that is happening, deciding out of sheer dogmatism to withdraw these revenues from RTBF remains for me incomprehensible. « . Dogmatism? One wonders on which side is the dogmatism? When you know that the taxpayers, via the endowment, support the radio of the Wallonia-Brussels community to the tune of 297 million € per year, you are terrified to see the advertising revenue decrease by 0.14%…

When you enter the majority with the MR, you should not have too many illusions. The Ecologists have learned this the hard way: other restrictions on advertising, such as a ban on cuts in films, advertising for medicines, strong alcohol, gambling and betting…, remain on the drawing board, probably for a very long time.

Even worse, this small gift of restriction to the constant brainwashing, has been paid with a heavy counterpart: the « poor » private television RTL (Radio Télévision Libérale Luxembourg) which works only thanks to advertising and is therefore a little impacted by the crisis following Covid-19, has been granted a small gift of… 20 million € by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. Thus, the Walloons and the inhabitants of Brussels will support a private company based in Luxembourg (where it pays — very little — taxes) and whose shareholders are German. In exchange, RTL has committed to repatriate its headquarters to Belgium. We’ll see… ?

The same imbalance is observed in the print media. The daily written press, which draws a large part of its income from advertising, is helped by the public authorities: 6.2 million indexed since 2005, i.e. about 8.2 million €, are shared between the few press groups that derive their income from advertising and are dependent on it, while the half-dozen or so publications without advertising share 262,000 € royally. No wonder Kairos asks you to subscribe to survive…

Alain Adriaens


The health crisis experienced as a result of the coronavirus epidemic has led to acts of denunciation of advertising. In May, the Act For Climate Justice collective replaced 800 posters on billboards and bus stops in Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi, Liège, Ghent and Louvain-La-Neuve. The poster action continued and activists held up a banner in front of the FEB (Federation of Belgian Enterprises) and the VOKA (Vlaamse Netwerk Van Ondernemingen) with the message  » Life before profit « . They clearly denounced the shameful attitude of advertising in such a hard time for many:  » In the last few days, expensive advertising has returned to the public arena, driving consumption at a time when hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food aid. These choices and the priorities set in the management of this crisis embody the inegalitarian system in which we have been stuck for too long: a system in which economic growth must be revived at all costs for a « return to normalcy », without taking into account the social and environmental issues. But it is to return to the « normality » of before the health crisis that would be abnormal! « (1).

The activists of the fight against climate change have understood that in the world of advertising everything revolves around money. If the primary goal of advertising is to make consumers buy useless products and services, there is no hidden agenda to make advertisers make a profit.

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  1. La description et les photos de leur action sont consultables sur leur site :

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