The new law on radio and television is a dangerous trap. By wanting to introduce a new tax on media, the government will massively increase the fiscal burden on citizens and the economy. Everyone will have to pay, even those who don't want or have access to the programmes of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). And businesses will even have to pay twice.
All private individuals and businesses that have access to public radio or television programmes currently pay a licence fee to the company Billag which collects the money on behalf of the SBC.
People who don't watch or listen to these programmes don't have to pay anything. However, the government is planning to replace this fee with a new Billag tax on media. No matter whether you have a receiver or not, whether you consume the programmes or not, or whether you are able to listen to the radio or watch TV – everyone will have to pay.
Some people will even have to pay out twice under the rules for the new Billag media tax: specifically business owners and their employees.
Even though they all already pay mandatory taxes in their capacity as private individuals, and even though listening to the radio and watching TV is impossible or banned in a large number of businesses, they will have to pay a second time via the company.
This is because the SBC calls on companies to pay up to CHF39,000 ($40,700) more each year, depending on their turnover. This will harm the economy and cost CHF200 million – five times more than at present.
To get even more money from citizens and the economy, the government uses the legal reform to set a pernicious trap.
Although it is promising a CHF60 reduction in the fee, the government wants to be given free rein to decide on its own to increase the new tax with no limit in the future. The people and parliament will no longer have a say in the matter – something that has never been the case for any tax in our entire legal system.
All the evidence suggests that the new Billag media tax will be increased very quickly. Whereas in 1990 the annual licence fee was just CHF279, each household currently has to pay CHF462.4 per year to the SBC, an increase of around 65%.
If this trend were to continue in a linear fashion, each Swiss household would in a few years' time have to pay CHF700 to 800 per annum.
But since the SBC is continuing to grow by investing in online TV and expensive in-house productions, the new Billag media tax is going to increase exponentially. The government and the SBC management are well aware of this.
If this tax trap is activated, a Billag tax of CHF1,000 per household per year is soon likely to be a grim reality.
What public service?
The need for a basic service providing quality information in our four national languages is not being contested.
In our direct democracy, it is vital that citizens have access to high-quality information on political, economic and social matters.
But under the guise of a ‘public service’, the SBC management has in recent years funded formats that have nothing to do with the organisation's social mandate.
The SBC currently includes foreign programming, extremely expensive series and films and bland light entertainment shows under the ‘public service’ label.
What is needed is an in-depth debate on what actually falls within the scope of public service and what does not.
But the SBC and the communications minister do not want to engage in this debate. What they want is money and guaranteed tax revenue. As far as they are concerned, all that people have to do is keep quiet and pay up.
And all this for a public broadcasting corporation that has, over the years, inflated its budget to reach an incredible CHF1.6 billion. This has made the SBC Europe’s most expensive public TV company by far.
It should focus on services that meet a need, and for which a tax of considerably less than CHF400 would be ample.
For this reason, vote no to the new Billag media tax and no to the revised radio and TV law on June 14.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch - a unit of the SBC.
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Translated from French