Expansion of media funding strengthens democracy, according to Sommaruga

The Federal Council and Parliament want to support the struggling media industry with up to an additional CHF 151 million per year. If this is not done, democracy will be weakened, warns Media Minister Simonetta Sommaruga in the run-up to the referendum vote in February.

Media Minister Simonetta Sommaruga at Thursday's media conference. (Screenshot: Youtube.com)

In the summer session, Parliament passed various direct and indirect subsidy measures. Because a referendum has been filed against them, the voters will have the final say on February 13, 2022. Media Minister Simonetta Sommaruga launched the referendum campaign on the media package on Thursday.

Newspapers, the member and foundation press, local radio and TV stations, online media, media training and news agencies such as Keystone-SDA are to benefit from the funding. The focus is on local and regional media.

"The package strengthens media diversity in Switzerland," Sommaruga said. Indeed, she said, it ensures that all regions of the country will continue to be covered in the future. "No region must be left behind."

"Development is worrying"

Thanks to local newspapers, local radio stations, regional TV stations and local online media, people are aware of what is happening in their area, Sommaruga pointed out. Local media contribute to the formation of political opinion and strengthen social cohesion.

But the domestic media, especially the local ones, are under pressure: They are losing advertising revenue to international platforms such as Google and Facebook, and subscription income is also declining. Within a few years, more than seventy newspapers have therefore disappeared, Sommaruga said. "This development is worrying."

To prevent even more titles from disappearing, radio stations from being weakened and individual regions from no longer being reported on the Internet at all, the Federal Council and Parliament want to expand the current support measures in favor of the media.

Focus on small and medium-sized enterprises

On the one hand, there is indirect support: the delivery allowance that the federal government currently grants to subscribing newspapers as well as club and association magazines is to be increased from a total of 50 million to 120 million Swiss francs. More newspapers are to be included and early delivery is to be supported. This would allow domestic publishers to invest more money in editorial work, Sommaruga said.

Also new is the - direct - promotion of Swiss online media. This part of the package was very controversial in parliament. CHF 30 million per year is to be made available for online media. The contribution to a medium may not exceed 60 percent of eligible sales.

According to the Federal Council, the measures are designed in such a way that smaller companies can benefit more. This will strengthen reporting in rural regions and smaller cities, Sommaruga stated.

Compared to today, the funds from the radio and television levy for private local radio stations and regional television stations will be increased. While 81 million Swiss francs will be made available for them in 2021, this figure will rise to around 109 million Swiss francs in the media package, according to the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM).

No influence

Finally, up to around 28 million Swiss francs from the reception fees are to be made available for general services. This means agency services, industry self-regulatory organizations, training and IT projects for electronic media. By way of comparison: in 2021, 5 million francs will be available for agencies and training.

The Federal Council writes that no new taxes will be levied as a result of the additional funding. The up to 151 million Swiss francs for the subsidy will be financed via the radio and television levy as well as from funds from the federal government. The delivery discounts and the subsidies for online media are limited to seven years.

In her vote, Sommaruga emphasized that the independence of editorial offices would be preserved with the bill. "The regulations are designed in such a way that the authorities cannot exert any influence at all."

Opponents of the bill see things differently. They say it is harmful to support private media with state funds. Among other things, they criticize that this would cause them to lose their credibility. (SDA)

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