Fög study: Major media report in a politically balanced manner

In elections and referendums, news media play an important role in shaping opinion. A new study by the Fög shows that the major media in particular report in a diverse and politically balanced manner. Proposals from the authorities receive more support, while popular initiatives receive more resonance.

Iconic image; Roman Kraft, Unsplash.

In the run-up to elections and votes, the Federal Council and the authorities, parties, associations and NGOs use targeted campaigns to try to convince voters with their arguments. How politically balanced is the Swiss media's reporting on this? Answers are provided by a new study by the Research Center Public Sphere and Society (Fög) on the political positioning of journalistic media in referendums.

Accordingly, the media tend to report positively on government and parliamentary proposals, while popular initiatives tend to be rejected. Proposals with center-left support, such as "Marriage for All" or the "Care Initiative," receive more approval on average than center-right proposals, such as the "Terrorism Act" or the "Limitation Initiative. This is particularly evident in editorial comments.

Tonality of reporting

At the same time, the tone of reporting is more in line with the voting results of the electorate than with party strengths and voting ratios in the National Council. Compared with the voting population, the media give greater weight to voices critical of the majority. On average, the media also pay more attention to popular initiatives than to proposals from the authorities. In this way, they fulfill their critical and control function to a certain extent.

These patterns are evident in most of the media studied. Proposals to the authorities as concerns of the political majority have a slightly positive to positive tonality in most of the media titles studied, especially in suedostschweiz.ch (+46). Only in the SonntagsZeitung (-4), the WOZ (-10) and especially the Weltwoche (-32), criticism of government and parliamentary proposals predominates. There is a tendency toward rejection of popular initiatives, especially in the case of nzz.ch (-30), Switzerland at the weekend (-31) and the Weltwoche (-41). There is more approval than disapproval only for the SonntagsZeitung (+9), the SonntagsBlick (+20) and the WOZ (+44).

If the media examined are positioned on a left-right axis (-100 to +100), according to the study, accents to the left can be seen, for example, in the case of Le Matin Dimanche (-12), blick.ch (-14) and SonntagsBlick (-34). There is a slight accent to the right at the NZZ on Sunday (+7) and the Switzerland at the weekend (+9), further to the right is positioned nzz.ch (+17). The clear exceptions are the politically profiled media titles WOZ (-79) on the left and the Weltwoche on the right (+59). Politically neutral positioning around the zero value is shown by the high-reach media 20minuten.ch (+1), 20minutes.ch (-1), SRF (-1) and RTS (-3).#

Media response of the parties

A broad spectrum of actors have their say in the media coverage of the referendum proposals. The various parties receive the greatest response (39 %), in line with their voter shares: Of the six largest Swiss parties, the SVP accounts for the largest share at 26 percent and the Green Liberal Party the smallest at 7 percent. The executive branch accounts for 12 percent of the response, NGOs or individual citizens for 14 percent . Science (11 %) and business (8 %) are somewhat less present. Other actors such as religious organizations or associations receive 15 percent of the media response.

Swiss media balanced overall

"The study shows that most media position themselves neither on the left nor on the right pole of the political spectrum, but relatively close to the average. This is particularly true for the high-reach public media SRF and RTS and the commuter media of 20 minutes, who are profiling themselves as impartial reporters," says Linards Udris, author of the study and associate director of research at Fög.

However, the Fög also identifies shortcomings. For example, not all proposals receive the same response. The sometimes considerable differences mean that voters are not informed about all proposals to the same extent.

The study is based on manual content analyses of the coverage of 44 referendums between 2018 and 2023. 23 media titles from German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland were analyzed.

The entire study is available here available for download.


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