Revolution in Belgium? No, it's just a television hoax

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A new country came into being - at least in the minds of thousands of TV viewers - after a hoax programme announcing the demise of Belgium provoked a national outcry.

In a spoof report on a unilateral declaration of independence by Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern half of Belgium, the French-language broadcaster RTBF announced that King Albert II and Queen Paola had fled the country in a helicopter.

Academics and journalists played along with the hoax designed to highlight the poor relations between Flanders and Francophone Wallonia. The economic disparity between the richer Flemish who feel they are subsidising the poorer Walloons has recently intensified the political debate.

After half an hour a message at the bottom of the screen told viewers that the report was fiction. Many were taken in with 89 per cent of viewers polled believing the tale at the start, and 6 per cent still convinced by the end of the report. The broadcaster's switchboard was jammed and even diplomats were confused, with foreign embassies calling the Belgian authorities to clarify the situation.