Roger de Weck has been named as new director-general of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), arguably the top job in the Swiss media sector.
He is taking on a high risk mission at a time when the leading media enterprise which includes public television, radio channels as well as the multimedia platform swissinfo, is under financial and political pressure.
De Weck has broad experience as a journalist and editor-in chief at Swiss and German newspapers, and is the president of the Geneva-based Graduate Institute.
The 56-year-old is bilingual in German and French and has an honorary doctorate from Lucerne University.
“Roger de Weck stands for responsible journalism and high standards,” said the chairman of the SBC board of directors, Jean-Bernard Münch on Tuesday.
His election was confirmed by the 41 delegates of the highest body of the SBC.
He replaces Armin Walpen who will retire at the end of 2010 after more than 14 years of service.
De Weck faces a daunting task at a time when the SBC is in the midst of a restructuring process and amid increasing pressure to cut spending to boost efficiency.
“It is a battle that cannot be won,” said Nick Lüthi, editor-in-chief of the Klartext media magazine.
De Weck will also have to lobby for an increase in licence fees and easing advertising restrictions for the public broadcaster, in particular for its online services and defend it against attacks by private media groups.
No easy task in the face of continuing attacks by the private sector, which accuses the SBC of trying to hold on to privileges in a competitive environment.
But the biggest challenge for the new director-general is self imposed by the SBC, according to Lüthi, namely the merger and close cooperation of radio and television.
“The aim is to be able to adapt to the changing media use by the public which provides the bulk of funding for SBC through licence fees.”
SBC recorded a shortfall of about SFr47 million ($41.4 million) last year and is expected to run up debts of SFr450 million by the end of 2011.
Lüthi points out that the public broadcaster must finally define a credible online strategy.
“Over the past year a lot of time was wasted with online projects for radio and television leaving swissinfo in the rain trying to guess its future,” he said.
For Karl Lüönd, a prominent author and media expert, the post of director-general is something only a superhuman can do well.
“There are hard times ahead. It will take all the luck in the world.”
For his part Lüthi argues that the job is ultimately not much different from any other position of power in a large enterprise.
Certainly it is a company which operates in a special Swiss environment of four different language regions.
The job requires a thorough understanding for the federal system and the different Swiss mentalities. It also calls for a special appreciation of the needs of the minorities to be able to meet different expectations without making yourself a slave of one group, according to Lüthi.
“This takes a well-balanced personality with a certain degree of humility and a flair for transparent communication,” he said.
Director, not general
The job profile as defined by the SBC stresses managerial qualities, in something of a break with the past when the appointment of the top post was made by the cabinet.
But the procedure has been amended since giving the board of directors and a body of delegates from the regions the final say.
Rainer Stadler in an editorial in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper warns that Switzerland’s political and cultural diversity is hardly ideal for someone with aspirations and the style of a military leader.
“The SBC can be led by a director, but not by a general,” he quipped.
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch
Trade unions and the newspaper publishers hailed de Weck's election.
The main political parties were divided.
Rightwing politiians were outraged or sceptical about the managerial qualtiies of de Weck.
But his election was welcomed by the centre-left.
Communications Minister Moritz Leuenberger said he optimistic that de Weck could help ensure journalistic quality standards. But he warned that SBC faced financial and political pressure.
Swiss Broadcasting Corporation
SBC operates eight television and 18 radio stations in the four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh, as well as in English.
swissinfo is SBC’s multimedia platform (formerly Swiss Radio International) in nine languages.
The SBC is funded mainly through licence fees as well as through income from advertising and sponsorship.
As part of the federalist structure of SBC minority languages benefit from revenue in the majority region.
SBC has about 6,100 employees (equivalent to about 4,800 full-time positions).
The non-profit organisation was founded in 1931. It joined the European Broadcasting Union in 1953.