This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of January, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Date of publication: 7 January 2020
Media outlet: De Standaard, conservative Flemish daily newspaper
Author: Matthias Verbergt
Headline: “From cyclist to Dewinters' pupil”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: De Standaard published a piece introducing the new fraction leader of political party Vlaams Belang; Sam van Rooy, who is replacing Filip Dewinter. Sam van Rooy is famous for his strong stance on what many call the 'Islamisation' of Flanders. He is, among other achievements, the author of a book titled “For Freedom, Therefore Against Islamization.” The article opens up with the following: "In the "anti-Islamization stand" of Vlaams Belang in Antwerp, Filip Dewinter changes places with the equally brutal Sam Van Rooy.” The piece then continues with sharing some of van Rooy’s past, but largely focussed on his anti-Islam political stance, stating: “The biggest enemy for Van Rooy is Islam”. The author continues: "Van Rooy, nicknamed ‘Sam Islam’, places the Koran on an equal level with Mein Kampf, calls mosques" barracks of jihad, and predicted a religious war in his book.” The piece is accompanied by a professional photograph of both politicians smiling. The article was subsequently shared on Vlaams Belang’s Facebook page, where it gathered significant traction.
Myth debunked: The issue here is the complete lack of critical stance or context. The article is written in a manner that normalises anti-Muslim rhetoric and tropes, treating inflammatory statements with complete casualness. From the very first sentence, the author continually equates Vlaams Belang to anti-Islam sentiments and narratives, and does so without providing any journalistic critique or context. Someone who reads this piece would easily assume that the statements made by Van Rooy are simply the truth, because they are given no opposing or different information or opinion. This is a case of very unprofessional journalism.
Politicians like Sam van Rooy should not be ignored by the media; in fact, because of Vlaams Belang’s increasing popularity, the media should be paying close attention to this political party. However, this should be done in a journalistically sound and fair manner, which De Standaard has failed to do. We have highlighted in the past how Vlaams Belang repeatedly spread anti-Muslim and xenophobic ideas, largely through their Facebook page, which has over 480,000 likes. The party is gaining power in Belgium, with recent polls showing that Vlaams Belang now hold 27% of votes in Flanders, making it the top party. The party and its politicians are bound to get media attention, and journalists need to be prepared to handle this is in a critical manner.
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