Friday, December 15, 2006

War of the Worlds Redux

There's quite a kerfuffle in Belgium over a fake newscast regarding the country's split in two, and the flight of the royal family:

Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane.

Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction."

It was too late. Many Belgians had already fallen for the hoax.

Frantic viewers flooded the call center of the RTBF broadcaster that aired the stunt. Embassies called Belgian authorities to find out what was going on, while foreign journalists scrambled to get confirmation.

"Ambassadors who were worried asked what they had to tell their capitals," said Senate Chair Anne-Marie Lizin. "This fiction was seen as a reality and it created a catastrophic image of the country."

Obviously, this story cannot pass without a reference to the War of the Worlds scare of 1938.

On the brighter side, this is bound to make people more aware of Belgium. And how often is Belgium in the news?

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