Media Landscapes

Luxembourg

Written by Mario Hirsch

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With a size of only 2,500 square kilometres and a resident population of little more than 500,000, out of which only half hold citizenship,

Luxembourg is the smallest Member State of the European Union, after Malta. The country is a founding member of the European Community and hosts important EU institutions such as the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors, and the European Investment Bank. It enjoys the highest per capita income worldwide, with a thriving economy based mainly on services such as banking and insurance.

The economy is oversized thanks to the presence of the headquarters of major global players such as Arcelor-Mittal, the world’s largest steel producer, RTL Group, Europe’s largest private broadcaster, and SES Global, the world’s leading satellite operator. The working population of 340,000 reflects this. It includes some 150,000 commuters from neighbouring countries. Altogether 67 percent of the working population are foreigners, either immigrants primarily from Portugal, Italy and Spain or commuters.

Three official languages are in use: Luxembourgish, French and German, plus of course the languages of the most important immigrant groups. The linguistic diversity is also present in the media.

The country enjoys a remarkable political stability with cabinets achieving their legislative term as a rule. The main political party is the Christian-Social CSV with about one third of the vote. It forms coalition governments alternating with the Social-Democratic LSAP or the Liberal DP as partners. The integration of the large foreign part of the resident population doesn’t create too many difficulties thanks to the fact that over 90 percent of the immigrants come from EU countries.

Interests closely linked to political parties or trade unions control the press as far as ownership and editorial policy are concerned. These partisan links explain to a large extent the surprisingly high number of daily newspapers (6 plus 2 free sheets) for such a small country. The other explanation for the vitality of the press is the generous public aid scheme provided by the government, both directly and indirectly. Ten publications (the six dailies plus four weeklies) benefit from this scheme. It amounts to over 15 m euro per year, one third is evenly divided between the ten beneficiaries and two thirds of the public subsidies are proportional to the volume of printed pages carrying original content, the so-called "pages rédactionnelles".

Circulation figures are not very reliable since no independent auditing is available, except for the two main daily newspapers Luxemburger Wort and Tageblatt whose circulation is controlled by the Belgian CIM. The figures we give are based on indications from the publishers. The necessary adjustments and corrections have been made under the author’s sole responsibility. Notwithstanding this remark, newspaper readership is doing quite well and slightly on the increase according to most statistics. Because of the partisan orientation of the daily press, many Luxembourgers subscribe to, or read, more than one publication in order to get the full picture.

The largest daily newspaper, Luxemburger Wort (circulation ca. 79,000), belongs to the Catholic Archbishop of Luxembourg and has close links with the dominant political party, the Christian Social Party (CSV). The Imprimerie Saint-Paul, the country’s largest printing outfit, is its publisher. The paper is published since 2005 in tabloid format. The parent company Groupe Saint-Paul controls also the largest weekly, Télécran (ca. 37,000), a magazine focused on TV programmes, commercial radio stations DNR and Radio Latina, a number of other publications, and extensive book publishing activities. It also edits a weekly, Contacto, in Portuguese (ca. 10,000). Since 2001 the pages which provided a French language résumé of the Wort, predominantly written in German, were incorporated into an autonomous daily, La Voix du Luxembourg (ca. 6,000), entirely written in French, which however shares commercial advertisements and family related announcements (“petites annonces” or “annonces classées”) with the Wort. For about 10 years Groupe Saint-Paul had a 16 percent stake in Medi@Bel, the second largest publishing group in Wallonia, which it gave up in 2003 when confronted with economic difficulties.

The second largest newspaper, Tageblatt (ca. 26,000), belongs to socialist trade unions and has close links with the Socialist Party (LSAP). The Editpress group, with its own printing facilities, publishes also a weekly, Le Jeudi, in French (ca. 6,000) as well as a weekly, Correio, in Portuguese (ca. 8,000). The Luxembourg edition of Républicain Lorrain (ca. 10,000) was a local edition of the Metz-based French regional newspaper of the same name. It was stopped in 2001 and replaced by Le Quotidien (ca.6,000), a common venture between the publisher of the Lorraine newspaper and Editpress, the parent company of  Tageblatt, which in 2001 also bought the weekly magazine Revue (ca. 27,000). This publication, whth a 60-years-old tradition as a family magazine, now has the same approach as Télécran, providing an overview of TV programmes and dealing with “popular issues” such as events related to the Grand-Ducal Family. Editpress also holds a stake in the commercial radio Eldoradio.

The Lëtzebuerger Journal (ca. 4,000) is owned by the Liberal party (DP). The Zeitung vum Lëtzebuerger Vollek (ca. 2,000) is owned by the Communist Party (KPL). The influential weekly d'Lëtzebuerger Land (ca. 6,500) is the only truly independent publication together with the satirical weekly Den Neie Feierkrop (ca. 12,000). Both of these publications lack the party or interest group affiliation typical for the other press products in Luxembourg. The weekly Woxx, the former Grënge Spoun (ca. 3,000), rebranded and renamed in 2002, and ceased its affiliation with the Green Party, Déi Grëng.

In the magazine sector, the publications of the independent publisher Mike Koedinger Editions (mke), especially monthly City magazine and the business magazine paperJam, with circulations of around 25,000 each, play an increasingly influential role and have a growing share of the advertising revenues, which allows them in turn to be distributed largely for free. Two publications in English have changed ownership and are published by an independent publisher: the weekly 352 Luxembourg News and the monthly Business Review, which have an estimated readership of around 5.000 each.

In 2005, the advertising market in Luxembourg was estimated to be worth around 110 m euro (source: IPL). The market share of the press, although declining, after the broadcasting liberalisation of the early 1990s, is still at around 70 percent despite the multiplication of commercial radio and TV stations. The reason for this high share has to do with the slow start of the new commercial radio stations and limitations on RTL's advertising revenues in Luxembourg. The multinational broadcasting group has been observing a kind of self-restraint as far as advertising revenues of its Luxembourg programming activities are concerned. Another reason can be seen of course in the limited TV and radio outlets RTL, still the country’s main broadcaster, offers to the resident population. Even though programme activities have been considerably increased, there still is no around the clock radio and television service dedicated to local audiences.

The 1991 law on the promotion of print media, revised in 1998, has however led to a doubling of the direct state aid to the press, in order to compensate for possible loss of advertising revenues following the liberalisation of the radio landscape. The law also contains a provision that calls for periodic review of the level of press subsidies (in 2009 direct and indirect subsidies such as preferential postal tariffs, reduced VAT rates on print paper and services, and the paid inclusion of the verbatim of parliamentary debates in 4 daily newspapers, amounted to nearly 15 million Euro).

In late 2007, two free sheets were launched on the initiative of the two largest publishing houses, Groupe Saint-Paul and Editpress. Editpress took the lead with the launch of L’Essentiel. This initiative was a joint venture with the Swiss TAMEDIA Group, publisher among others of the TagesAnzeiger and the free sheet 20 Minuten. Groupe Saint-Paul, not very keen on the idea, had to follow suit and launch its own free sheet, Point 24. These two publications are clearly aimed at the 150,000 commuters who everyday come to work into Luxembourg from the neighbouring regions of Belgium, France, and Germany. Three quarters are French-speaking citizens from Lorraine an Wallonia. These two papers are published on work days in French. In mid-2009, Point 24 has added a few pages in German. No reliable figures exist on the advertising market share of these publications. Judging from the amount of ads they get, compared to the established press, their percentage can be estimated at around 5 percent.

The 1991 media law (see below) formally abolished the monopoly RTL enjoyed on a contractual basis since 1930. Broadcasting franchises were allocated in 1992 to four consortia involving the written press to some extent. Eldoradio, the most successful of the new radios with an estimated audience share of 15 percent, is indirectly controlled by RTL. Other shareholders are newspaper publishers such as Editpress, the Lëtzebuerger Journal and the d'Lëtzebuerger Land.

Eldoradio is a typical music radio, targeting the younger audiences. Den Neie Radio (DNR), with an estimated audience share of 7 percent, has amongst its shareholders the Groupe Saint-Paul, Luxembourg's leading press group, some Catholic associations and some business interests. This radio aims at competing with RTL Radio Lëtzebuerg as far as news and current affairs coverage is concerned. Radio Latina, with an estimated audience share of 10 percent, addresses itself primarily to the foreigners residing in Luxembourg (44 percent of the country's total population). Its shareholders are immigrants' associations, the Christian trade union LCGB and Régie Saint-Paul, the advertising outlet of Groupe Saint-Paul. Radio Ara (estimated audience share is 4 percent) is owned by organisations belonging to the so-called associative movement. It is the only radio station that tries alternative programming, taking into consideration the needs and desires of all kinds of marginal groups and English-speaking foreigners living in Luxembourg.

The law identified a third category of radio stations, the so-called local radio. In theory, some 40 locations are possible, but in 2009 only 14 were in operation, most of them broadcasting only for a few hours a day or week. These local radios have to respect strict technical limitations (power of 100 Watt, radius of 5 kilometres) and they are subject to tight restrictions as far as advertisement financing is concerned.

In 1993, the government established a public radio station called RSC ("établissement public de radio socio-culturelle") or 100.7, which refers to the frequency it uses. RSC, which initially had to share its national FM frequency with RTL, started with broadcasts limited to only a few hours per day. Since 1998 it transmits a 24-hour programme and has the exclusive use of its frequencies. It still relies however on transmission infrastructure owned by RTL. This radio station, which benefits from substantial public funding (around 7 million euro in 2009), and which pursues an ambitious, rather elitist programming policy, has not been a great success so far. Its audience share still does not exceed 2 to 4 percent, a fact that in the eyes of its critics proves the point that it is superfluous in a liberalised environment.

The law enables the government to grant TV franchises besides those held by RTL. This provision has however not been used on a large scale for the obvious reason that advertising revenues are too limited to support a second national TV programme. Two franchises have been granted to regional initiatives carried on cable networks in specific areas of the country a few hours a month (Uelzechtkanal, a non-profit undertaking and Nordliicht, a commercial operation with limited ambitions). In 2002 a licence was granted to Tango TV, a national commercial programme operated by Tele 2, the cellular phone operator, which belongs to the Swedish Kinnevik Group. But it closed down its operations in 2007 for lack of revenue. In 2004, an Open Channel, called DOK (“Den openen Kanal”), started broadcasting on cable networks. It is used by some associations and individuals, but has no ongoing programming. Since 2000, the Luxembourgish Parliament broadcasts life plenary sessions and background information about legislative activities via Chamber TV.

Despite these timid attempts at liberalisation, RTL continues to dominate the Luxembourg audiovisual landscape. Its radio programme, RTL Radio Lëtzebuerg, remains the most popular with an audience share of above 50 percent. Its local television programme, RTL Télé Lëtzebuerg, has no real challenger and enjoys an audience share above 40 percent for its daily one-hour broadcasts. This programme is broadcast  repeatedly at regular intervals, including a version with an audio channel in French, and carried also via an Astra satellite thanks to government subsidies.

Luxembourg television audiences consum foreign television programmes with great eagerness. They have a strong preference for programmes originated from Germany, according to the sketchy audience surveys.

The movie business in Luxembourg is controlled by one major group, Utopia S.A., which owns all theatres with few exceptions. It has expanded into neighbouring Lorraine and Wallonia. Audiovisual and cinema production is encouraged by the government through a tax shelter scheme which has produced quite a lot of international coproductions.

The Luxembourg historic operator, Entreprise des Postes et Télécommunications (P&T), is still 100 percent government-owned, which is in itself a curiosity nowadays in Europe. Despite this handicap, in 2008 it has proven to be rather innovative by venturing in the coveted television market. Its subsidiary, Tele vun der Post, offers quite competitive packages consisting of an attractive offer of some 80 programmes. It has also adopted an aggressive strategy in the mobile communications markets, which, though liberalised is still controlled by P&T up to 60 percent via its subsidiary Lux GSM, by offering all kinds of new, media-related content in cooperation with RTL. The same goes for Internet-related applications.

P&T is trying to regain the ground it lost by not playing a leading role in cable developments over the last decades. The cable landscape in Luxembourg is characterised by an almost pointilist approach, with some 80 cable operators running under very diversified conditions as far as the technical qualities of their networks, offers and prices are concerned. This is a major challenge, considering that 83 percent of households are connected and that more than 30 percent of them have access to Internet via cable TV modems.

The satellite operator SES Global, whose headquarters are in Luxembourg, has blurred the lines between telecommunications and broadcasting right from its creation in the 1980s. Its core business remains direct-to-home television broadcast platforms, but over the years it has consistently diversified its offer by providing broadband access to populations not served by terrestrial infrastructures, or by proposing satellite services for business and government agencies worldwide (ASTRA Platform Services and ASTRA2Connect for instance). SES Global is the leading provider of satellite communications and broadcast services . With its fleet of 44 satellites at 26 orbital positions its spans the globe and it provides coverage of 99 percent of the world’s population.

Online Media are slowly taking off, despite the fact that close to 80 percent of the population are at present connected to Internet, most of them regular users. About 60 percent of the people connected have access to broadband. Internet connections are used for all kinds of purposes. First comes information gathering of all sorts, followed by e-mailing, electronic banking, and electronic commerce in that order. 

Most media operators have their web sites and the content of newspapers is available online, but most of the time restricted and not totally free of charge for the archive offers. Except for Wort.lu, which employs 6 Internet journalists, there are no separate newsrooms for online offerings. The most popular sites are those operated by Wort, paperJam and RTL. These sites attract most of the advertisement on the net, which represents less than 2 percent of the advertising pie.

Internet radio (MP3 format) is proposed primarily by RTL and to a lesser extent by RSC and DNR. Digital radio (T-DAB) is not going to happen. Prospects for BRM look better, because RTL finds an obvious interest in such application for its programmes aimed at international audiences.

No news agencies operate in Luxembourg. All media outlets use foreign agencies or internal sources.

Except for some activities in the audiovisual and film production, which require foreign producers who want to make use of the tax shelter arrangements to team up with local companies, most of the time on an ad hoc basis, there are no significant spin-off effects from the many media activities that still take place in Luxembourg. The exception being of course the legal profession, especially business lawyers specialising in rights issues. They benefit from the activities of international operators such as RTL Group, SES Global, SES Astra and some online businesses established in Luxembourg.

The main employers' organisation is the “Association luxembourgeoise des éditeurs de journaux”(ALEJ), which regroups the publishers of daily newspapers, a very efficient lobby in matters of concern to its vested interests (its share of the advertising pie, and the level of public subsidies).

Journalists are organised in three separate associations, the largest and oldest being the “Association luxembourgeoise des journalistes” regrouping some 180 professional journalists. The “Union luxembourgeoise des journalistes” (UJL) is the platform of journalists working for the media controlled by Groupe Saint-Paul (some 60 affiliates). Altogether there are more than 500 professional journalists, i.e. holders of a press card. About two thirds of them work for print media. One third of all journalists are foreigners living in Luxembourg or neighbouring regions and one-third women.

  • Media developments in Luxembourg have almost exclusively been the affair of private initiative.
  • The government has encouraged through subsidies and some regulation some developments, especially in the field of print media and international activities in the broadcasting, satellite and electronic commerce fields.
  • Content regulation and ownership rules have been for most of the time inexistent and it is only with the advent of a regulatory framework at the European level that some measures have been taken.

Media activities have always been almost exclusively the domain of private initiatives. With the exception of videotext and satellite developments (SES, the Luxembourg-based operating company of the ASTRA satellite system), the public sector never had any real stake in media developments, notwithstanding the 'oddity' of RSC. The government has however been instrumental in providing a 'liberal' environment for entrepreneurial developments in the field, encouraging Luxembourg's role as a platform for international operators. This was the main concern of Luxembourg's media policy until 1991 when a new broadcasting law was passed with the intention to diversify the audiovisual offer beyond RTL's de facto monopoly.

The RTL strategy to become a major player in European broadcasting, highlighted by its takeover by Bertelsmann in early 1997, inevitably has led to a dislocation of its programming activities away from Luxembourg. Only the group headquarters remain in Luxembourg. The growing internationalisation of RTL and the dislocation it entailed led the government to realise that something had to be done to improve the broadcasting offer for the resident population. The considerable success of pirate radios since the early eighties clearly indicated that there was a demand for local broadcasts not fulfilled by the minimalist programmes RTL proposed.

The government was and is however keen to keep some links between Luxembourg and RTL Group (as the company is called since Bertelsmann became its owner in 2001). To that effect the new franchise agreement signed in April 1995 between the government and RTL Group (called at that time CLT-UFA) establishes a contractual relationship for the next 15 years. All the existing radio and TV licences are prolonged for that period. RTL continues to enjoy a certain commercial exclusivity for its international operations out of Luxembourg.

The government pledges to grant licences to third parties only if they do not compete with RTL activities. RTL succeeded in being freed of most of its public service obligations, including the requirement to maintain a symphony orchestra, as well as franchise fees. In return for these favours RTL has pledged to keep some activities in Luxembourg and to offer TV and radio programmes for local audiences (the cost of these local programmes, which result in loss-making activities, have been estimated at 120 million euro for the duration of the franchise agreement). The substance of this deal was confirmed after the change of ownership in 2001.

Luxembourg's media remain only loosely regulated, despite some attempts (notably the 1991 law) to introduce elements of supervision. Press legislation is rudimentary. The constitution mentions freedom of the press with hardly any limitations. An antiquated law of 1869 deals with infractions committed by the press and regulates the right of reply in a not very satisfactory way. A new Press Law of 2004 has brought some progress on these matters but most trials that involve the press are based on damage suits along the lines of civil liability (articles 1382 and 1383 of the 'Code civil').

A 1976 law introduced the already mentioned direct subsidies to the press in order to safeguard diversity. There are no ownership rules or limitations except for cross-media ownership. The 1991 law on electronic media has limited the stake one single shareholder can have in one of the commercial radios to 25 percent. There is some pressure coming from RTL to get rid of this limitation in order to increase its stake in Eldoradio. No particular content rules are applicable except for offending comments dealt with by the 1869 law and now the 2004 law, which are governed for all practical purposes by the general rules pertaining to civil liability. In the absence of specific legal provisions, the press is subjected to general legislation, and litigation before ordinary courts remains the preferred means to call the media to account. In 2009 the Government has introduced some rather substantial amendments to the existing legislation.

Main features:

  • Content regulation of the media is not very well developed.
  • Self-regulation is supposed to deal with contentious issues, especially as far as print media are concerned.
  • Regulatory matters are hampered by the government’s policy to promote the country as host to international media developments and vested interests of local media.

 For the last 150 years the issue of the responsibility of the media for their deeds was dealt with according to common law principles. The 2004 Press Law introduced some interesting innovations but encouraged the media to go for self-regulation. Journalists' unions have their code of conduct, albeit vague, and a Press Council (“Conseil de Presse”), composed at par by editors and journalists, is supposed to police the profession. It is guided by a “Code de déontologie” and has a complaints’ commission chaired by a magistrate. Its main activity consists however in delivering press cards.

The 1991 law established supervisory or regulatory bodies such as the Independent Broadcasting Commission (“Commission indépendante de la radiodiffusion”) in charge of granting broadcasting authorisations and controlling applications, an advisory Programme Commission (“Conseil national des programmes”) and a consultative Media Commission, which has been dormant since its creation.

Only the Programme Commission has taken up issues of accountability, but it is not empowered with sufficient authority to have any real impact. All it can do is to attract the attention of the government or public opinion to offences in the media. It has nevertheless been very active in its attempts to police the media and especially RTL radio and TV programmes. But its attempts to extend its competences to the latter’s programming activities abroad, at least those programmes that sail under the Luxembourg flag to bypass national prescriptions in the target countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland among others) have failed for lack of human resources. The Programme Commission was also instrumental to bring about a Code of Ethics (“Code de déontologie”) adopted in 2006 by the Press Council. It is expected that this instrument will enable this body to increase the self-regulation of the profession.

After long-drawn preparations a new Press Law was finally adopted by Parliament in 2004. It redefines the right of reply and it introduces the right for journalists to protect their sources among its main provisions. In the fields of new media, telecommunications and Internet developments, the “Institut luxembourgeois de regulation” (ILR) is  supposed to arbitrate between the incumbent operator, the EPT, and new players. Its role has been rather discreet, to say the least.

The scarcity of data and the lack of research has to do with the fact that no specialised research institutes exist in the country and that the young Université du Luxembourg (started in 2005) has a faculty of Science, Technology and Communication (FSTC). There is no formal journalism education. The Government’s Service des Médias et des Communications offers some facts and figures on its website. So does the Government’s Statistical Office STATEC.

Apart from the above mentioned two Government bodies, there re no comprehensive media statistics available other than sparsely released information from media operators. Another Government body, the Centre des Technologies de l’Information de l’Etat, provides some useful information on ITC.

Main features:

  • Despite a remarkably lively media landscape, Luxembourg’s media will have to take on sooner or later the market test of their viability.
  • Luxembourg has been for decades at the forefront of media liberalisation in Europe (RTL and the Astra satellite system). It could become a victim of developments it has initiated so successfully for so long.

Over the last years, Luxembourg has experienced significant changes in its media organisation. The abolition of RTL's monopoly status in 1991 was certainly overdue, but so far it has not let to dynamic media activities alongside RTL's domestic activities. The radio liberalisation that started in 1992 was too ambitious and a concentration process is likely to take place, particularly as the government has pledged to abolish ownership ceilings in radio activities. It has also announced that it is going to lift the limitations on advertising revenues imposed on RTL's local radio and TV activities.

The Luxembourg press is of course a special case. Its amazing diversity can be attributed to the generous public subsidies but also to the more than obvious links between political parties and newspapers. Provided these two requisites stay in place, Luxembourg will continue to enjoy pluralism in the printed press, which is unusual in the European context and a remarkable endeavour by itself.

The audiovisual media are rapidly switching from analogue to digital modes of transmission. This should be achieved by 2011, even though analogue transmission will go on for some time. This eagerness for an all-digital environment is related to ambitious plans by the government to push broadband developments by setting up LuxConnect, a competing company to the incumbent telecoms operator, Entreprise des Postes et Télécommunications, which is 100 percent state-owned. It has also to be seen in relation with SES Global’s plans to force the pace of digital developments, notably HDTV, in particular in Germany.

As far as its traditional role as home for international activities in the broadcasting field is concerned, Luxembourg certainly suffered some serious setbacks. RTL has outgrown its Luxembourg origins, especially after its absorption by Bertelsmann. The main reason why broadcasting as one of Luxembourg's preferred export articles has declined in importance has of course to do with the fact that commercial broadcasting has become a common feature in Europe. Consequently, the detour via Luxembourg is no longer necessary.

  • On the press:  Hilgert, R. (2004) “ Les journaux au Luxembourg  1704-2004”, Service Information et Presse, Luxembourg.
  • On the media landscape and in particular audiovisual media, see the chapters on Luxembourg written by Mario Hirsch in the Internationales Handbuch für Rundfunk und Fernsehen, Hans-Bredow-Institut, Nomos, and Baden-Baden 2009 and in The Media in Europe: The Euromedia Handbook, Sage, London 2004.

Mario Hirsch
director of the Institut Pierre Werner
28, rue Münster
L-2160 Luxembourg
Tel. +3524904431
Email:: Hirsch@ipw.lu