Media format : Printed Press
Frequency : Daily
Geographical distribution area : National
Geographical area : Belgium
Website : www.standaard.be
Media language : Dutch
Country : Belgium
City : Brussels
Address : Gosset laan 30,, 1702 Groot-Bygaarden
Created : 1918
Owner : Media Huís
Status : Belgian private company
De Standaard is a daily Dutch language newspaper belonging today to one of the most important press groups in Belgium which owns four newspapers, some free publications, as well as radio stations and TV channels.
Publishing director : Gert Ysebaert
Chief Editors : Karel Verhoeven, Bart Sturtewagen, Bert Bultinck, Karin De Ruyter, Ruud Goossens
Mediator : Tom Naegels
Turnover : 370 million euros (2012 figure)
Personnel : approximately 100 journalists
Print circulation : 98.908 copies (CIM 2013 figure)
Audience : Newspaper readership, the website and it’s applications: 994 880 readers per day
Printing press : the 4 newspapers of the group are printed internally by Groot-Bygaarden
Originating in Antwerp, De Standaard was published in the suburbs of Brussels by the press group Media Huis, formed by the merger between Concentra and Corelio Media (new name for VUM – Vlaamse Uitgevers maatschappij since 2006). Its history was linked for some time to the history of the Flemish movement and, more particularly, to the history of the Flemish Christian-Democrat party in power in Belgium from 1945 to 1999.
From its first edition on 4 December 1918, the front page banner featured a cross with the letters AVV-VVK (Alles voor Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen voor Christus/Everything for Flanders, Flanders for Christ).
The newspaper abandoned the motto in 1999 when it decided to target a younger readership. Since then the newspaper has become a reference for the Flemish establishment and has distanced itself from the Catholic world while retaining its commitment in the Belgian language conflict with the clear ambition to become a ‘quality European newspaper’.
De Standaard Magazine was launched in 1993 as the first Flemish newspaper supplement. In 2011 this was replaced by DS Weekblad, an end-of-the-week supplement. Standaard.be was launched in 1995 and remains a reference website. DS Avond is a tablet application and is available every weekday at 5 p.m.
De Standaard does not have an internal charter. It uses the Professional standards and ethics code for the Flemish community drawn up by the equivalent of the Press Council of which the newspaper is a member.
1.2. – How is their application monitored? : The hierarchical chain
2.2. – What mechanisms are there to evaluate already published material? : Fairly informal
Feedback on the previous edition of the newspaper is given daily at the morning editorial meetings. There is no particular time dedicated to critical analysis. De Standaard has a strong culture of communication and journalists can express themselves freely without the need for a formal structure to do so.
2.3. – Which systems are in place to identify and correct errors? Fact checking? : These are being improved
The newspaper does not have the financial means to maintain a department, or person, for automatic fact-checking but the existing production procedures ensure that articles are proofread several times by different people before they are published.
In 2013, a study was carried out by the University of Ghent to look for errors, mistakes or approximations in 500 of the newspaper’s articles over a period of two months. It was an occasionally painful exercise but it did increase editorial vigilance.
3.1. – What is the relationship between editorial values and advertising content? : This is carefully considered
De Standaard has established a clear boundary between editorial space and advertising. Advertising cannot, in any circumstances, influence editorial policy, either by asking for a subject to be treated or not treated.
Without taking it to extremes, the newspaper tries not to mix genres, even in times of crisis, when pressures may be strong and exchanges between different departments are many and frequent.
An example of this occurred a few years ago when De Standaard followed the Belgian press collective decision to refuse all political advertising from the Vlaams block, the Flemish far-right organisation.
3.2. – What arbitration systems are in place for disputes? : Editorial department
In as much as the relationship between editorial and advertising is clearly defined, the relationship between partners and editorial content is not always obvious and readers may have difficulty understanding that when a newspaper supports a show or artistic festival it does not mention it much nor provide reviews.
4.1. – How are press trips and embedded journalists managed? : Authorised and made public
De Standaard rarely covers armed conflicts. One correspondent based in Lebanon is charged with covering Syria and Iraq and the newspaper does the necessary to ensure their safety. However, when reporting on an armed conflict, a journalist embedded with army troops is not at all in the same situation as the journalist who benefits from the help of a company or an organisation to produce their report.
The newspaper does not have guidelines for accepting or refusing this type of invitation, however the mediator always asks that readers be informed if this applies, although this demand is not always respected.
De Standaard has limited finances for travelling. It accepts offers of free air tickets for editorial staff – a scientific journalist, for example – in order to go to an important congress on the other side of the world. In this case, the journalist’s independence is not compromised by attending a public event and they have the opportunity to meet and interview people.
One should, however, differentiate between the subject matter and the support provided to the newspaper. In general, the Economy, Politics, Science or Foreign departments are expected to be independent and neutral. The same demands are not made of the Sport or Tourism departments. Exchanges between the editorial organisation and the mediator are common and sometimes complicated.
There are no real conflicts of interest between the newspaper and its owner as the owner is a group that only operates within the media, in all formats. An in-depth study by the De Standaard mediator regarding television coverage showed that there was no change in tone or content in De Standaard articles whether they referred to channels belonging to the Media Huis group or to rival channels.
However, it is difficult for journalists to work on subjects that directly concern them as salaried members of the group. The restructuring plan in 2013 was difficult to cover.
4.3. – How are political and economic pressures managed? : Supervised by the hierarchy
There are continuous pressures and attempts to influence De Standaard. It is part of the daily challenge of chief editors to receive and acknowledge these pressures and at the same time sidestep them.
4.4. – How is general news or “news in brief” treated? : Scrupulously
There are no specific internal rules for the treatment of these stories at De Standaard but the code of professional ethics and standards for the Flemish Dutch language press are scrupulously adhered to.
The newspaper gives relatively little space to the ‘news in brief’ genre although it does not exclude treating stories that are being widely talked about.
The newspaper respects rules not to disclose the names of minors, victims or torturers, nor the full names of suspects under legal examination, even if other, less scrupulous, publications have already put the information in the public domain.
4.5. – What criteria are there for the publication of photos/ transmission of filmed images? : A question of balance
On the one hand, there are legal criteria which the newspaper adheres to.
On the other hand, the newspaper systematically seeks a balance between freedom of information and using gratuitous, sensational images. Regular discussions take place between the Editor-in-chief and the photo manager to decide whether a photo should be published or not.
Some published images provoke criticism from readers, such as “distressing for children to look at”. The mediator would respond with “De Standaard is not intended for children.” Sometimes, in order to report horror, the horror sometimes needs to be shown but precautions need to be taken. The most appropriate photos should be used, in other words the most relevant to the news.
Often, there is a consideration of the need to respect privacy, for instance when pictures show a public place, including people who are not necessarily involved in the story that is being reported. It is difficult and sensitive work and the responsibility is shared collectively by the members of the editorial hierarchy.
4.6. – How are amateur photos or videos treated? : Rarely used
De Standaard rarely publishes amateur photographs. This is usually justified by their exclusive nature, as for the death of the Dutch director Theo van Gogh. All precautions are taken in these cases to check the images.
4.7. – What is the status of permanent or freelance journalist blogs? : Authorised and free
4.8. – What are the conditions for working undercover? : Rarely used
De Standaard seldom uses this method of investigation. It is used more by television journalists.
Working undercover is only authorised if no other means are possible and only applies to prominent news stories. One rule is systematically enforced: the person in question is contacted afterwards and offered the option of expressing their point of view.
5.1. – What form of mediation is there with the public? Is there an ombudsman? : Yes, recently put in place
The role of mediator – unique in the Flemish press – has existed at De Standaard since 2010. The current mediator has been in place for three years. He has a column in the newspaper which appears every Wednesday. He can also intervene at any moment on the website.
De Standaard provides three or four pages of opinion articles or columns every day. These are provided by intellectuals (university professors, experts, politicians, writers, etc.)
Two or three times a week a letter from an ordinary reader appears in the Letter of the day column.
Every two or three weeks, the newspaper provides a selection of readers’ letters all on the same subject.
5.3. – How is the ‘right of reply’ managed? : A compromise is sought
Belgian law is broad and ensures easy access to the right of reply for the public.
De Standaard therefore tries to find a compromise with the reader in order to avoid having to publish texts that are often over-long, badly written and that the newspaper cannot change. The mediator has the task of negotiating and rectifying any mistakes and interviewing the person concerned, in keeping with the journalistic process.
In the end, the publication of a right of reply as such is rare.
5.4. – How are public visits organised? : On request
The newspaper does not have an active policy regarding visits but it organises group visits on request.
5.5. – Are there organised meetings with the public? : During visits
De Standaard provides a complete list of editorial staff on its website, with journalist photos, email addresses and direct telephone numbers.
5.7. – How are internet forums managed? : Pre-moderation
The De Standaard website now opens certain articles to comments; the number is determined by the availability of editorial staff to ensure moderation.
This hybrid solution is the result of our first experiences of free comment. Moderating demanded too much time but is, in fact, essential given the sometimes aggressive, rude or irrelevant nature of some comments.
Management temporarily closed the Comments section and re-opened it later following the urgent request of Internet users and readers who denounced this as “censorship” and demanded the right to read something other than the “opinions of specialists”.
6.1. – Moving towards green printing? : Information not provided
6.2. – How sustainable are the infrastructure and logistics? : Information not provided
6.3. – Are suppliers selected according to sustainable criteria? : Information not provided
6.4. – Is there sustainable management of film materials? : Information not provided
7.1. – What initiatives are there for developing media literacy? : Individual initiatives only
8.1. – What commitments are there for continuous training? : Compliance with the law
8.3. – Is there an apprenticeship tax? : No apprenticeship tax in Belgium
9.1. – How is corporate social responsibility applied? : Not applied