Belgium | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, and these rights are generally respected by the government. The law prohibits hate speech, including Holocaust denial, which holds a maximum sentence of one year’s imprisonment. The Belgian Chamber of Deputies voted unanimously in March 2005 to approve a law that protects journalists’ sources. The new law protects reporters from home searches and seizures and gives them the right to silence if called as a witness. The vote came after police raids in 2004 on the home and office of a Brussels-based German reporter, Hans Martin Tillack, which shocked the community of international journalists. In October 2006, Tillack brought his case before the European Union’s Court of First Instance, where he argued that the action against him by Belgian police violated his rights. Although the court recognized that his complaints of mistreatment were legitimate, in the end it ruled that the case was outside its jurisdiction. In November 2007, however, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Belgium to pay Tillack 40,000 Euros (US$62,903) in damages.

Newspaper ownership concentration has increased since the 1960s as corporations have steadily been buying up papers. As a result, today a handful of corporations run most of the country’s newspapers. In the broadcasting sector, unlike most other European nations, Belgium has two separate public broadcasting organizations (one operating in French and the other in Flemish), each with its own domestic and international broadcasting network.

The government does not limit access to the internet, which was used by close to 53 percent of the population in 2007. However, after being physically attacked, threatened, and having his family threatened, journalist Mehmet Koksal was forced to shut down his blog in October 2007. The blog had reported on events in the Turkish community in Belgium, and Koksal’s opinions had angered local politicians as well as the extremist Turkish group Grey Wolves, who attacked Koksal in front of the police, who did little to protect him. Koksal had been filming a riot instigated by the Grey Wolves. No further action was reported.