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Cutbacks at swissinfo outrage Swiss in France

The Swiss in France say no to cutting swissinfo to the bone swissinfo.ch

Swiss living in France, the largest community of the Swiss abroad, have unanimously rejected plans to drastically reduce swissinfo’s content and staff.

This content was published on April 24, 2005 - 12:08

Speaking at their annual congress, participants were firmly opposed to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation’s (SBC) proposals to economise at Switzerland’s news and information platform.

The SBC announced in March that it would axe up to 80 jobs and eight language services at swissinfo, leaving only a reduced English department.

Representatives of the nearly 167,000 Swiss nationals residing in France took part in the conference in the French town of Agen, where the future of swissinfo was placed high on the agenda.

They voted unanimously to support a resolution on swissinfo, which stressed that they were "scandalised to learn of the SBC’s proposals".

They also called on the Swiss authorities to "find the means to secure the indispensable tool that swissinfo constitutes, particularly for the 30,000 citizens" residing in France who continue to exercise their right to vote in Swiss elections.

The driving force behind the resolution was Jean-Paul Aeschlimann, vice-president of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad and president of the Swiss Association of Montpellier. He has lived outside Switzerland for more than 30 years.

Unique take

He admitted that, while there was a wealth of information available elsewhere to the Swiss abroad, none matched swissinfo’s take on events.

"The advantage of swissinfo is its neutral approach to information, which puts forward balanced points of view with speed; there is a need for something which stands apart from political parties and lobbyists," Aeschlimann said.

Lending his support to the resolution was the Swiss ambassador to France, François Nordmann.

"The position taken by the Swiss in France conforms to the position we have taken ourselves in the Foreign Ministry," he said.

"I remember the time when swissinfo was conceived to replace Swiss Radio International...with the argument that the BBC was going to put all its content on the internet. Today the BBC still has its shortwave service and we do not!" said Nordmann.

Government subsidy

While the SBC might be pushing ahead with its plan for swissinfo for economic and strategic reasons, one could not ignore the fact that the Swiss government had announced it was cutting its subsidy to swissinfo, ahead of the SBC.

Could Nordmann imagine a return to the days of state-funding for swissinfo?

"It is true that we are living in an era of draconian budgetary constraints but it has also happened that jobs that were supposed to be lost were saved [in other areas]," Nordmann explained.

However, he added: "[Here] we have to measure the [potential] impact on the presence of Switzerland abroad and one should be careful not to take political decisions which contradict one another."

swissinfo, Bernard Léchot in Agen

Key facts

The largest community of Swiss abroad reside in France, numbering 166,199.
A total of 623,057 Swiss citizens live outside Switzerland.
Today, 442,643 of the total abroad or 71% hold joint nationality.
The majority (60.5 per cent) live in the European Union.

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In brief

The Union of Swiss Associations in France, an umbrella body uniting 150 organisations, held their 47th congress in Agen.

High on the agenda were the proposed cutbacks at swissinfo.

Delegates voted unanimously in support of maintaining swissinfo.

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