Today, the shareholding is still fully owned by about 10 Belgian media companies, which together account for about 40% of the turnover. So the press is still the press agency's main stakeholder. Today, as when it was founded, Belga still derives a large part of its turnover from services to companies, and the growth of recent years has mainly come from this part. The government's share of turnover remains roughly constant, despite the growing complexity of our government system.
The corona crisis has proved once again that the news agency is the backbone of our national news service. The number of news reports has increased significantly during the crisis. Posts, photos and videos from Belga are adopted today even more than before and the Belga diary remains a trusted planning tool among news editors.
Belga therefore remains strongly committed to supporting broadcasters and publishers of newspapers, magazines and news sites. We help our media companies keep costs under control by providing the backbone of news in text, image and agenda centrally and reliably, and by alerting them accurately and quickly about new developments and scoops from colleagues. Many editors regard Belga as a team of external correspondents they can call on blindly, helping them to be even more engaged in what distinguishes their own news brand: their own editorial contributions, interviews, interpretation and commentary in words and images.
The current crisis teaches us that citizens' willingness to pay for news is once again on the rise. Furthermore, news consumers today attach even more importance than before to news reliability and Belgian news brands score remarkably better here than social media. Belga will continue its efforts to keep this news affordable and reliable and, as in the past, will continue to try to show strong adaptability and demonstrate a drive for innovation in the interest of its stakeholders.
The news agency was technology-driven from the start. Belga correspondents abroad telephoned their news to the editorial office. For trips abroad, they also used Belradio radio telegraphy, which could reach every corner of the world with long-wave antennas. Stenographers recorded the messages that Havas relayed by phone from Paris, and Reuters was forwarded initially by Morse and later by telegraph.
The German D.N.B., the French Havas and the British Reuters transmitted their messages from 1934 via Hellschreiber, the forerunner of the fax.
Belga co-founded "Radio-Belgique" in 1923, which aimed to spread news by radio. Under pressure from the dailies, this "spoken daily" had to be concise and was not allowed to be broadcast until the newspapers had already appeared. In 1930, when I.N.R./N.I.R. was founded, it was agreed that Belga messages would be broadcast in abbreviated form in five news broadcasts, with the dailies explicitly mentioned.
Subscribers to the news agency initially received their messages by express delivery by post and, as a supplement, by telephone. From 1928, spurred by the newspaper Le Soir, they gradually switched to transmissions by telex. Le Soir in 1930 was followed by seven more Brussels newspapers in 1932 and some Antwerp newspapers in 1933. By 1939, the I.N.R./N.I.R. and most other newspapers were also connected to the telex network. An authentic copy of such a telex can still be admired today in the office of our editor-in-chief.
From the 1970s and 1980s, computers were gradually introduced. This technology made it possible for journalists to enter their texts themselves instead of dictating them. However, resistance to change and fears of job loss were considerable, and de facto dictation was still commonplace in all European news agencies in the early 1990s. Only when e-mail was to replace fax for good was the matter finally settled.
Teletext, another innovation from the 1980s, was an instant success, though. The new medium was initially seen as a threat, as for the first time in history, news agencies lost their monopoly to distribute real-time news via networks. Public broadcasters and newspapers also fought a legal battle over who had exclusive rights to use the technology. The broadcasters won the battle. Belga supplied the news for teletext and the broadcasters officially became its publishers.
In the early 1990s, databases made their first appearance in media companies. Initially, journalists and business users could access international press databases, consultable via dial-up modems over telephone lines, for a fee. Financial Times, Reuters, Lexis-Nexis and Dow Jones were the international frontrunners. In the Netherlands, you could consult all newspapers via the Dutch Press Database. In Belgium, Central Station, the joint initiative of all Belgian newspaper publishers, met resistance from journalists due to the lack of copyright regulation.
From the late 1990s, press databases could also be consulted via the fledgling internet. The Flemish and French-language publishers took advantage of this new technology to set up their own press databases. This time they did so with an eye for copyright.
Belga has been archiving all news in its own digital archive since 1995. From 2000, this archive was operated by Mediargus, the press database of Flemish newspaper publishers. Mediargus would later merge with its French-language counterpart Pressbanking to form the monitoring platform Gopress, which in turn was acquired by Belga in 2015.
As a result of that acquisition, the news agency today has a very comprehensive database of all newspapers, magazines, online and agency articles since the 1990s, with real-time updates. Besides the archives that are mainly relevant for journalists, academics and libraries, Gopress also offers monitoring services and press reviews for companies and governments.
Anno 2020 Belga is launching the application belga.press, which combines all the services of Belga and Gopress and gives the journalist or business user access to the coverage of all news media in Belgium and neighbouring countries, both in real time and in archive form. The new platform uses the news agency's know-how and algorithms to intelligently unlock regional and national news from newspapers and magazines, from news sites, social media and radio and television to the user. The application works on mobile devices and PCs.
Belga will also roll out a new editorial platform internally in 2020. This will allow editors to adapt the workflow to the needs of the third decade of the 21st century. It is an open source platform created by and for journalists, in collaboration between different news agencies. Belga immediately telecommuted everyone when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and, thanks to the excellent service provided by our IT department, this did not cause any significant problems. For the future too, Belga is committed to a mix of office and teleworking. The new editorial system makes that perfectly possible.
We learn from the past how important technology is for a news agency. We have learned to see innovations not as a threat, as in the days of teletext, but as an opportunity. The way the news agency has responded to the rise of the internet clearly demonstrates this. By improving services to media, governments and companies, introducing new services on monitoring, archives, digital photography, video and audio reporting, Belga has embraced the internet and made it an ally from the start.
The use of social media also shows strong adaptability and solid future-proofing. Today, X (Twitter) is an interesting news source for the editors, in addition to direct contacts, press conferences and the many press releases Belga still receives. Furthermore, the agency itself is also present, but with due restraint, on these social media to highlight its own reputation and reliability.
Bilingualism was also considered from the start, although in practice this proved no easy matter. From 1925 Belga covered all important national ceremonies and parliamentary news was also provided by reporters on the spot. As early as 1922, Belga's board of directors considered setting up a Flemish service. However, the Flemish press did not play an important role at that time and it proved extremely difficult to find skilled staff in Brussels who also knew good Dutch. From 1938, a Fleming was recruited as a correspondent in the Netherlands. That way, the first Dutch-language reports were delivered to the Flemish newspapers. The management's proposal to provide the entire coverage in the two languages was rejected that same year. The Flemish newspapers did not wish to pay extra for this service and the French-language magazines were not willing to bear part of the cost.
At the first General Assembly after World War II, they repented and Belga officially became bilingual. All notices were henceforth signed "Agency Belga/Agence Belga". The correspondent from the Netherlands was tasked with recruiting and training Dutch-speaking staff and had oversight of Dutch-language copy. The total cost was shared among all clients and this time there was no discussion. From 1970, the editorial board was split into Dutch- and French-language sections.
Anno 2020, Belga is still perfectly bilingual. Management is in the hands of one editor-in-chief, with each sub-editor at the head of each section having its own deputy editor.
While the media landscape in Belgium has been divided for years, Belga is thus unique. Indeed, a lot of reporting and visual material is relevant to both language groups. This is the case for international news, sports and economic coverage, as well as coverage of European and federal politics.
We notice, on the one hand, that our sub-editorships are increasingly acquiring a regional focus and, on the other hand, that Belga fulfils a bridging function between media from the North and the South so that public opinion can remain informed of what is going on across the linguistic border.
With our feet anchored in the centre of Brussels near the Rue de la Loi and the European quarter, and with our editorial expertise in each region, we are ready for the evolutions of our institutions and regions. Belga will continue to be a link between language groups and regions. Our editorial expertise and cost efficiency will continue to prove their worth, both at international, European and Belgian level, and for our own reporting in the regions. Moreover, the international network Belga has built up with foreign press agencies, news media and institutions can be of service to regional governments, institutions and companies.
The press agency's role in Congo was initially quite limited. The "Technical Committee" requested Belga to provide a news service from Congo in 1930. From 1937, this was done by a correspondent on the spot who sent a daily telegram of no more than 50 words to Brussels. This limited service worked until the outbreak of war. From 1947 Belga organised an editorially independent bureau in Congo. By 1957, this agency was transmitting about 20,000 words a day via telex to its subscribers in Africa, compared to only 2,500 words for subscribers in Brussels. After independence, the agency was taken over by the Congolese press agency A.C.P, founded by Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
Because of its historical ties with Congo, Belga still pays quite a bit of editorial attention to African current affairs, although some of the raw material for this coverage comes from our French partners at AFP. On state visits and trade missions, we of course still send our own reporters along.
In the near future, there is likely to be a lot to do about colonial history and the future of relations between Belgium and Congo. Belga is ready today to report on these developments, as always, in an independent and factual manner.
The Second World War taught Belga the value of an independent editorial team and how fragile and fleeting press freedom is.
From 18 May 1940, the press agency came into the hands of the Germans under the direction of the German press agency D.N.B. and the Germans sent messages under the name Belgapress. Some of the Belga staff continued to courageously oppose the Germans, first from Ostend and later from Le Havre and Poitiers. An administrative headquarters also remained active in Antwerp until the chairman, three members of the board of directors, several staff members and director François Peeters were arrested by the SiPo. On 27 May 1941, two days after his release, director Peeters died.
On 5 September 1944, almost immediately after the liberation of Brussels, Belga went back to work as an independent press agency.
Even before the war, the major agencies were strongly influenced by their national governments. Therefore, the Dutch ANP came up with the idea to exchange news directly between the smaller independent press agencies from 1939 onwards to avoid their coverage being modified by the big agencies and their governments for political reasons. Belgium, the Netherlands and the four Scandinavian countries founded the "Group 39" for this purpose, which still plays an active role in the sector today.
We should never forget how important an independent press agency is for our democracy and freedom. Anno 2020, we are faced with the biggest pandemic in the last 100 years, with an economic crisis reminiscent of the late 1940s, with an unstable political context in which authority figures and interest groups try to bend the population to their will with "alternative" facts and with automated manipulations of public opinion via social media.
In this context, even more than usual, no media company can afford the luxury of doing without the silent power of a news agency. The raw material provided by the Belga newsroom outside the spotlight, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, helps any news brand to remain reliable and incorruptible in these turbulent times.
For this country's governments, companies and organisations, too, the news agency's factual information is the oxygen the public debate needs. People know from Belga that the information is checked for veracity and that it is only distributed when there is certainty about its accuracy.
Our journalists, staff, managers and directors are proud of the reputation Belga has built over the past 100 years. We look forward to continuing to live up to this reputation in the years to come and to evolving with our stakeholders in the century to come, keeping news in words, images and services reliable and affordable for all media, governments and companies.