Committee for Media Promotion wants independent and diverse media

The non-partisan Yes Committee on the media promotion package "Freedom of Expression" is campaigning for independent and diverse media in all regions of Switzerland. On Monday, the committee presented its arguments and a campaign poster for a Yes vote in the referendum on February 13.

Independent media are an important foundation of direct democracy and therefore indispensable in Switzerland, the committee said. The population must be able to form a free opinion and receive reliable and balanced information. There is therefore a need for diverse, well-founded and also critical reporting.

The diversity of the media is also important, especially at the cantonal and municipal level. According to the committee, local and regional media contribute to debates and cohesion in Switzerland with their reporting. This is an important public service.

"A 2018 study by the University of Zurich shows: The less the media report on local politics, the lower the voter turnout in the municipalities," Bernese SP National Councilor Matthias Aebischer told the media in Bern. The decline of the media threatens democracy, he said.

The poster for the referendum campaign shows the national hero William Tell with a newspaper in his hand as a weapon to fight for freedom of speech and against "fake news.

Switzerland mired in media crisis

However, the committee is convinced that this function, which is relevant to democracy, is acutely endangered. Falling advertising revenues and the digital transformation pose major challenges for the Swiss media. "While 20 years ago the press was still earning almost two billion Swiss francs a year from advertising, today it is just one fifth of that, around 400 million a year," said Aebischer.

Internet giants such as Facebook, Google and TikTok are on the rise and are competing with Swiss media, the report continued. The Corona pandemic has further aggravated the situation. Quality journalism is lacking money, the number of media titles is declining and media diversity is decreasing. In short, Switzerland is in the midst of a media crisis.

That's why, according to the committee, there is a need for some kind of bridge financing that would allow investments in new business models. "The support in the media package is manageable, limited in time and proportionally supports the small, regional and local media companies much more," said Martina Gammeter, publisher and corporate director of the Engadine Post. The law helps to secure the journalistic offer in the regions.

State and media separated

The committee further argues that the media package does not impose any conditions or performance mandates on publishers. The state and the media remain clearly separated. Moreover, support would be given to media "from left to right" and to radios as well as online media. Press subsidies have been a tried-and-tested instrument for decades and have existed since 1849.

"No money is going into the coffers of the publishers, but to the post office and other delivery companies, making the delivery of newspapers and magazines to households cheaper," said Roland Fischer, a member of the Lucerne GLP National Council. For Josef Dittli, member of the Uri FDP, the media package is "a liberal solution" because it is based on how the companies exist in the market.

The "Yes" committee for media funding "Freedom of Expression" includes the Swiss Media Publishers Association VSM, around 90 parliamentarians from all parliamentary groups with the exception of the SVP, and 20 organizations, such as the Maz School of Journalism, the Consumer Forum and the Foundation for Media Diversity.

Parliament approved the media subsidy in the summer session. Over seven years, the media in Switzerland will receive direct and indirect funding of CHF 123 million more than before.

In addition, contributions to private radio and television stations are to be increased by up to CHF 28 million a year. This would bring the support contribution up to 151 million francs a year. This would benefit print media, the member and foundation press, online media, news agencies such as Keystone-SDA, and media training.

The "No to state-funded media" committee has lodged a referendum against the parliamentary decision. On February 13, 2022, voters will therefore decide whether the federal government should provide additional funding for the media in Switzerland. (SDA)

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