Speaking to representatives of the group on air, Praet accused Wallonia of “always voting for the same people”. Green party Ecolo, she said, had made electoral advances in the region in the last election, but that the taxes the Yellow Vests were protesting – duties on fuel – were environmentally motivated. “Maybe think about that next time around,” she said.
Her remarks led to her immediate suspension from the company’s radio and TV broadcasts.
“The management of RTL regrets these outrageous remarks and emphatically wishes to distance itself from them,” the company said in a statement. “This was a serious error by the presenter, who is there to facilitate the exchange of ideas in the broadcast, and in no way has the job of reviling the actions of specific parties in a gratuitous manner through the use of unfounded generalisations. In these times of fake new, this can only reinforce the mistrust of the people of the institutions, including the news media – something which is unacceptable for RTL’s management.”
The suspension then took an unexpected party-political turn, with N-VA junior minister Theo Francken stepping up to support Praet and accuse Ecolo of lobbying for her removal. Editorialists, commentators, polemicists and analysts, he said, should “beware”. Ecolo-Groen, he said, “had been delivered her head on a platter”.
Francken’s protest was joined by Open VLD president Gwendolyn Rutten, who described the suspension as “the wrong signal. Every politician hears and reads analysis of themselves, their ideology or party, which are wrong or confrontational. Learning to live with that is a part of liberal democracy. If you don’t agree, ask for a right to reply. No suspensions,” she tweeted.
A spokesperson for MR expressed “full support” for Praet, and even prime minister Charles Michel spoke up on her behalf – albeit behind the closed doors of his party steering committee. Meanwhile Ecolo co-chair Zakia Khattabi denied having brought any pressure to bear on RTL regarding Praet’s remarks.
However yesterday the company announced it was bringing to an end their collaboration with Praet – business-speak for “you’re fired”. On last Sunday’s broadcast, RTL said, she had “departed from the role which ought to be hers, which is to allow viewers to arrive at their own conclusions, rather than impose an electoral recommendation on them.” To depart from that principle, the company said, would have the result of “turning presenters into the spokespersons of political parties”.
Ironically, the widespread political support Praet had received had forced RTL’s hand in an unintended direction. “The many reactions caused by her suspension have convinced the management of the channel of the impossibility for Mme Praet to continue to satisfy the criteria of independence which are essential to the channel.”