Right of reply in Belgian media: all you need to know
The Belgian Act of 23 June 1961 on the right of reply grants a broad right of reply to any individual or corporation named or implicitly referred to in a newspaper or a magazine, and a more limited right of reply to any individual or corporation named or implicitly referred to in an audiovisual broadcasting (i.e., radio or television). The Act on the right of reply does not apply to electronic versions of newspapers and other internet-based media. Several legislative proposals aimed at applying similar rules to electronic media have failed so far, but journalistic self-regulation to some extent covers an electronic right of reply.
The right of reply on radio and television
In other words, there are distinct rules applicable to the right of reply depending on the type of media outlet. In the case of audiovisual broadcasts, the claimant must prove a personal interest in the reply and the right of reply consists only in the right to rectify incorrect facts relating to the claimant and to reply to facts or declarations that touch the honour or reputation of the claimant (for media of the written press, these restrictions do not apply and a broader right of reply exists). For Flemish audiovisual media (radio and television), distinct but similar rules apply (Articles 103-112 of the Flemish Act of 27 March 2009 on radio and television broadcasting). In practice, this means that the articles on the right of reply in the (federal) Act of 23 June 1961 are no longer applicable in Flanders, but remain applicable in the rest of the country (i.e., in the French Community and in the German-speaking Community of Belgium). However, the Flemish rules are very much similar to the rules in the Act of 1961.
Main characteristics of the right of reply
The right of reply should always be free of charge and refusal of the right of reply may lead to penal sanctions. The right of reply as protected by Belgian law offers one the possibility to react within a short timeframe to an article or program, in the same media outlet that published the first article or program, without costs and without the need to start a legal procedure in court. However, in practice, it is not uncommon that a request to publish a reply is met with reluctance on the part of the publishers. In case a right of reply is refused or is published in a way that does not conform to the legislation, a publisher may be sentenced to payment of a fine, of an indemnification for damages, and/or of non-compliance penalties (which are often much higher than the fines, and in practice are the most convincing tool to ensure compliance).
For more information on the right of reply in Belgian media, please contact me via the contact information on this website. If you need help from a Belgian lawyer (attorney) specialised in media law, feel free to reach out!
Author: Bart Van Besien
Attorney - Lawyer - Brussels - Belgium - European Union (E.U.)
Specialised in Belgian media law and intellectual property law (copyright, trademarks, patents, domain names, etc.).
ContactBart Van Besien
Finnian & Columba
K. De Deckerstraat 20A
2800 Mechelen, Belgium
+32 486 626 355
+32 15 29 42 57