In the face of growing media concentration, privatisation of societal debates on messaging apps, and lost advertising revenues, Switzerland needs a new “media patriotism”, finds the 2019 Quality of the Media Yearbookexternal link.
In Switzerland, as elsewhere, the most important driving force of shifts in media usage currently is the growth of tech platforms like Google, Facebook, and YouTube, writes the annual report by the Zurich-based fög institute.
And in Switzerland, too, this is putting pressure on professional news journalism that is indispensable for the democratic process. Here we provide an overview of the main findings and recommendations of the report.
What are the main findings?end of infobox
Media concentration is significantly increasing as the market share of big publishers grows and the number of media owners and publications drops. At the same time, the dominance of the tech giants in the media sphere continues to climb.
More and more messaging services are being used to share and read news. WhatsApp is the most popular such app, and is regularly used by three-quarters of Swiss.
The hierarchy of the most influential agenda setters has been turned on its head: until now, leading media outlets were central when it came to controlling the public flow of information. Other actors – individuals, politicians – now also set the agenda.
The quality in established information media has slightly dropped. Professional journalistic standards (objectivity, balance, proper sourcing) have remained stable, but relevance and diversity has dropped. Soft news has gained in importance.
What problems are on the horizon?end of infobox
Political knowledge is dropping, as more and more citizens consume no or insufficient journalistic content. Participation in the political and democratic process thus also decreases, along with trust in official institutions.
In Switzerland today, the report finds, over one-third of the population is judged to be “news-deprived”, while over half of 16-29-year-olds fall into this category.
Messaging services like WhatsApp encourage the privatisation of societally-relevant debates. These are held on private channels and driven by individual rather than the public interest. This increases the risk that problematic content such as disinformation can propagate.
Journalistic quality is, according to the authors, indispensable for a democratic society. “To produce societally-relevant content, we need journalists who have the competence and necessary resources and who are held to professional standards”, they write.
How should we react?end of infobox
The researchers don’t hold back in their analysis of developments. A new “media patriotism” is needed, they write, that would protect the “local professional information media” that is essential for a democratic state.
Such patriotism would include taxing advertisers who profit from journalistic content reached via tech platforms such as Google, the report suggests.
Direct support to media would also be expanded, “independent of type. This means that it’s necessary to support, beyond public radio and television, other quality media sources. The case of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (of which swissinfo.ch is a part) shows that such support doesn’t come at the expense of editorial independence.
To challenge the tech giants, a “digital commons” is also needed in cases when competition between publications is unimpeded – that is, a common infrastructure accessible to professional journalists, independent of state and interest groups.
Translation from German by Domhnall O'Sullivan, swissinfo.ch