There is a direct connection between the steady disappearance of local newspapers in Switzerland and lower participation in communal votes, according to a study released on Tuesday.
This is the conclusion of Daniel Küblerexternal link, a political scientist at Zurich University, who has analysed data from six urban regions - Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Lausanne, Lucerne and Lugano – or a total of 408 municipalities.
He found that in areas with larger circulations of local newspapers, turnout in communal votes was greater.
Participation in municipal and city council elections has been falling steadily in Switzerland for decades. In canton Zurich, for example, in the 1970s turnout at municipal elections was around 70%. It stood at 37% in 2014.
At the same time, communities have been struggling with the crisis of local journalism. Local newspapers have come under pressure, partly because of free newspapers and new online media. The number of independent regional and local newspapers has been steadily decreasing, while larger press groups have been consolidating. According to the Quality of the Media yearbook,external link the number of regional newspapers in Switzerland fell from 36 to 28 between 2001 and 2016.
The mergers of local newspapers have resulted in press groups talking less about regional issues and proposing fewer articles on local news, said Kübler.
The hope that local online news would step in to replace local newspapers that are being phased out has not occurred, he added.
“No one has found the solution to earn money with local online news,” he declared.
To defend democratic values, Kübler believes non-commercial players, such as foundations, political parties and local authorities should step in with new local media offers.