Amateur paparazzi idea doesn't click in Belgium


BRUSSELS -- Belgian public broadcaster VRT has been forced to scrap a controversial amateur paparazzi competition after the government said it represented an invasion of privacy.

Tom Waes, host of VRT program "Tomtesterom," had called on Flemish viewers to take candid pictures or footage of famous Belgians, which would be placed on the broadcaster's Web site.

However, the initiative was slammed as "an unjustifiable breach of privacy" by Flanders Region Media Minister Geert Bourgeois. His intervention recalled tensions between the government and broadcaster 18 months ago, which ended only when Bourgeois fired the then-head of VRT.

VRT broadcasts in Dutch, and is subsidized by the Flemish northern half of the federal Belgian state. Officials initially defended the program, saying it represented journalistic freedom. But after a hastily convened administrative board meeting, the competition was scrapped and the Web page removed.

"We do not wish to sacrifice the reputation of the VRT for a one-week competition," a VRT spokesman said.

About 400 pictures and clips had been put on the site by the time it was taken down. They included a photo of a prominent Flemish politician on a giant rabbit at an amusement park and a former minister on holiday in Portugal with a close companion.