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Inside Move: Pubcaster pox

Political meddling plagues net hierarchy

The U.K. government’s spat with the BBC over its coverage of the war in Iraq and of the buildup to it has reminded everyone in Europe just how much their governments still like to have a say in the output of public broadcasters.

But the BBC should count itself lucky — it has never been subjected to the kind of meddling Belgium’s French-language pubcaster RTBF has had to put up with in recent months.

Following the Belgian elections in May, the winning side — a coalition of Socialists and Liberals teamed with Flemish Liberal Guy Verhofstadt as prime minister — was keen to make sure that its preferred candidates landed the key posts at the RTBF.

The government’s influence was most obvious on RTBF’s choice of a new head of its TV sports news division. Michel Konen, chief editor of the pubcaster’s flagship evening news bulletin for many years and known to be a Christian Democrat, put himself forward for the job. But despite being the only candidate, he was rejected by the RTBF executive board. After a second call for candidates, French-speaking Liberal Benoit Balon-Perin got the nod.

Unfortunately for the RTBF, the deal was no slam-dunk. Konen took his case to the Conseil d’Etat, Belgium’s supreme administrative court. Although it has yet to deliver its official verdict, its initial report found in favor of Konen, placing the pubcaster in the embarrassing position of having to re-employ him.

A post of director of radio sports news was hastily created, and this is the function he is fulfilling at present. But it’s unclear where he’ll ultimately end up.