Public broadcaster criticised for cancelling 16 episodes of popular TV series

The Flemish public broadcaster VRT recently decided to cancel sixteen 'inappropriate' episodes of the popular Flemish TV series 'F.C. De Kampioenen'. These include episodes in which black people and gays are laughed at. Episodes featuring actors with criminal records were also taken offline. Several politicians have criticised VRT's decision.

F.C. De Kampioenen' has been one of the most watched TV series in Flanders for decades. With 273 episodes spread over 21 seasons, four films and numerous reruns, it remains one of the public broadcaster's favourites. However, 16 of the 273 episodes are now being cancelled, after an internal VRT committee, charged with monitoring the zeitgeist of the broadcasts, declared them inappropriate.

All episodes with 'an African link' and woman-unfriendly remarks will no longer be broadcast. Also the episodes in which condemned guest actors can be seen were placed 'under embargo' in the VRT archives.

"We inspect and evaluate old programmes", VRT-spokesman Jan Sulmont told Gazet Van Antwerpen. "If it turns out that language, situations, images or jokes can come across as inappropriate in the current zeitgeist or no longer fit in today's society, that can be a reason to place them under embargo in our archive: they will then no longer be broadcast or put online."

Despite the fact that the public broadcaster explained its decision, party chairman Conner Rousseau (Vooruit) is anything but impressed. Rousseau understands the criticism that television programmes have to move with the times, but thinks that this approach is not the right one.

"Do we explain why certain things are sensitive? Or do we cancel without clarification? I am not a fan of this decision," he stated on his Instagram account. "Yes, there are inappropriate things in it sometimes. Yes, there are sometimes things said that are not okay today (and not then either)."
"I prefer that we explain in school and on TV why certain things are not okay," Rousseau stressed. "But also explain that this was made in a different context than today." The politician also noted that many people no longer feel they are allowed to say what they think: "There are bigger problems at the moment. It's just that many people feel that 'you can't say anything anymore'. We have to be careful not to feed that feeling."

Maurits Vande Reyde, Flemish MP for Open VLD, also disagrees with the cancellation of the broadcasts.

"It's a bit reminiscent of the way the BBC censored the British soap opera 'Fawlty Towers'," he noted via Twitter. "A VRT committee takes these decisions internally, which is not very transparent. The VRT should have an open discussion and set a good example."
The MP compares the deletion of the episodes to censoring history lessons: "Imagine history lessons according to the same frenetic way media deal with the last decades: Henry VIII did not exist. We delete Robespierre from the period 1789-1794. Nero is just a cartoon character." It is an exaggerated comparison, he admits: "But there is some truth in it. You cannot censor history and it shows that we are always moving forward," Vande Reyde concluded.



Presentation of the 15th serial and DVD of VRT television program FC De Kampioenen, Wednesday 17 November 2004 in Brussels. (L-R) Ben Rottiers, Herman Verbruggen, An Swartenbroekx, Jaak Van Assche, Danni Heylen, Tuur Deweerdt, Ann Tuts, Marijn De Valck, Johny Voners and Loes Van Den Heuvel.



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