Legal Environment: 2
Political Influences: 4
Economic Pressures: 5
Total Score: 11
Life Expectancy: 79
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (75 percent), other [including Protestants] (25 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Fleming (58 percent), Walloon (31 percent), other (11 percent)
Freedom of speech and of the press are guaranteed by the constitution and generally respected by the government. The protection of journalists' sources has been a contentious issue in the country for several years, and journalists have been pressing for change. In a positive step, in March 2005 the Belgian Chamber of Deputies voted unanimously to approve a law providing for the protection of sources. The vote came after the 2004 police raids on the home and office of a Brussels reporter, which shocked the community of international journalists. Similarly, in January 2005 a newspaper reporter and editor of the Flemish-language newspaper De Morgen were interrogated by police about their sources for a May 2004 article highlighting police fears about a terrorist attack in Antwerp. The paper reported that police had been listening in on the phone calls of one of its correspondents. The new law protects journalists from home searches, seizures, and phone tapping and gives them the right to remain silent if called as a witness. However, journalists can be forced to reveal sources in order to "prevent crimes that represent a serious attack on the physical integrity of one or several third parties."
The climate was strained regarding foreign journalists working in Belgium, particularly for those of Muslim descent. During a political conference in Mol in September, three Moroccan journalists were barred from the conference premises and assaulted by conference participants, though other journalists were not prevented from attending. In addition, a Mongolian journalist and her 10-year-old son were confined to a temporary holding center for foreigners without papers after they fled Mongolia following a number of attacks resulting from a series of articles she had written outlining corruption within the Mongolian government. The Belgian Ministry of the Interior ordered her expelled despite the prison sentences she could potentially face for defamation if she returned to Mongolia, and she was reportedly deported from Belgium.
Newspapers have gone through increased concentration in ownership since the 1960s as corporations have been steadily buying up papers. As a result, today a handful of corporations run most of the country's newspapers. As for 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 networks. The government does not limit access to the internet.
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