The Swiss Senate is standing behind a government report on public service broadcasting which earlier in the year attracted criticism from a House of Representatives committee, notably from members of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.
On Monday the Senate rejected calls from the House for an additional report into the role and offer of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company.
The various branches of the SBC are under pressure. Media companies and above all the People’s Party constantly criticise the organisation’s monopoly status.
In June, the government published a report in which it said it wanted, by and large, to stick with the existing model, which guaranteed high-quality journalism. However, the report didn’t get a criticism-free pass from the Senate. Not innovative or forward-looking enough, said Hannes Germann and Werner Hösli from the People’s Party, adding that the SBC media had barely adapted to technological developments.
In a period of digitalisation, one couldn’t count only on a medium financed by a licence fee, argued Hösli. “Any organisation, such as the SBC, that thanks to taxes doesn’t face financial pressure, is superior to all other media,” he said.
What particularly irked the politicians was that the report didn’t address, in what they considered satisfactory detail, what output was mandatory for the SBC to provide and what could be left to private media.
“There must be a debate,” said Germann, adding that the public, which pays for public service media, had a right to that. Basically the People’s Party is prepared to support programmes funded by the licence fee only if they can’t be provided by private companies.
Germann and Hösli want the report to go back to the cabinet for a considerable rewrite.
Unique media landscape
But in that respect they are in the clear minority. The vast majority of members in the Senate agree with Communications Minister Doris Leuthard.
The existing model had proved itself regarding Switzerland’s linguistic and cultural diversity, she told the Senate.
“We looked at many models in Europe, most of which are monolingual. We are quadrilingual and have direct democracy with numerous votes. Independence is an important element for us,” she said, referring to various countries in which politicians more or less blatantly interfere with the media.
“That’s why we’d do well to uphold media freedom,” she said, adding that a public service broadcaster must be independent, whereas this was not necessarily the case for private broadcasters.
Leuthard said the SBC was anchored in all linguistic regions of the country and guaranteed a high-quality product. “A strong public service results in better-informed citizens and greater trust in institutions – scientific studies have shown that,” she said.
Not that the SBC was sacrosanct, she added. Public service needed to constantly adapt and improve, in particular concerning programmes for young people.
“Limits must also be set for the SBC. A licence fee of CHF1.2 billion ($1.24 billion) was enough to carry out this mandate,” she concluded. “There is potential at the SBC for increasing efficiency, but also it also has very high fixed costs, due to its performance mandate.”