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Flanders shakes down TikTok, Instagram to fund local films and series

by editor

BRUSSELS — Go Flemish or go home.

The Belgian region of Flanders is planning to force Instagram, TikTok and YouTube to contribute financially to the production of Flemish films and television series, on the grounds that Flemish-made content is available on those platforms and helps the companies make money.

“Local productions are extremely important … and to finance that, we ask all companies that have an advantage of this locally made content to contribute,” Flanders’ minister for media Benjamin Dalle told POLITICO.

It’s a move that Dalle, who currently chairs EU-level meetings of media ministers as part of the Belgian Council presidency, would like to see replicated across the bloc. The Flemish government plans to bring up the issue at the next meeting of the EU’s media ministers in May.

Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are already required to invest in so-called European works through the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), which aims to support local media productions as they compete for eyeballs with mainly American productions and platforms.

The proposed Flemish law, which is currently making its way through the region’s parliament and is set to become applicable in January 2025, extends that idea to short-form and online media platforms. These companies will be required to hand over up to 4 percent of their turnover in Flanders, either by investing in local films and series or by putting money into an audiovisual fund.

Dalle said content creators “very often” used snippets of Flemish productions, while broadcasters themselves uploaded content on the platforms.

“I expect them to respect the new law. If they don’t, all sanctions are possible,” Dalle said, with the draft law suggesting platforms could even face a local ban.

The new law — which Dalle said was a first of its kind internationally — would barely dent online media giants’ bottom line: The region of just under 7 million inhabitants makes up a minuscule part of media consumption of these platforms’ global reach.

But it could come at a greater cost for the companies if it were to spread across the EU.

Dalle said he hoped other countries would warm to the idea because going solo was “not ideal.” The EU’s rules are set to be revised in 2026.

Under the current rules, €7 million is being poured into Flanders’ audiovisual budget every year. Dalle’s update — which also raises the level of contributions for streaming players from 2 to 4 percent of their turnover in Flanders — is expected to double that amount.

It’s not clear how much video-sharing platforms like TikTok and Instagram would contribute if the law were updated to include them.

“We have an idea about the revenue of Meta [Instagram’s parent company] on a global level but no clue about what it means in Flanders,” the Flemish minister said. Video-sharing platforms would be required to share, in confidentiality, these tricky calculations in May.

Lobbyists representing Instagram’s Meta and YouTube’s Google have already fired warning shots. Big Tech lobby group CCIA warned last year that the Flemish initiative “would prevent these services from continuing to operate in Flanders.”

Dalle said the targeted companies had already sent “long legal letters to say that I can’t do it” — but the European Commission is siding with Flanders in saying that member countries (and regions) can impose stricter rules on firms operating in their markets.

TikTok, Instagram and YouTube declined to comment.

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