Was it an inspired wind-up or an irresponsible faux-pas? Television audiences in Belgium were left stunned when a programme was interrupted by a news flash announcing the country didn’t exist any more. A straight-faced newsreader told viewers that Flanders, the Flemish-speaking region of northern Belgium, had declared its independence, forcing the King to flee abroad.
The public television channel had been secretly working on the stunt for a year, putting together convincing, but very false, on-the-scene reports. It was only much later a message appeared on screen revealing the news was fictional. There is in reality strong support in Flanders for separation from the Francophone south, meaning the story would not have been so unbelievable. Nine out of ten viewers were initially taken in by the news, and telephone switchboards were immediately jammed.
Back in the real world, vice Prime Minister Didier Reynders said he was particularly shocked by the fact that a member of a Flemish far-right party, that has called for independence was in on the joke and was allowed to take part in a mock interview. The government said the joke was irresponsible and in bad taste. The channel claims it wanted to create a real debate on the issue. It has certainly got people talking.