Switzerland's first commercial national television station, "Tele 24", is to close in the autumn, casting doubt on the viability of private broadcasting in the country. The station's founder, Roger Schawinski, blamed the slow pace of deregulation for the failure.
Schawinski is to sell his Belcom company to the Zurich-based Tamedia group for SFr92 million ($55 million). The buyer will continue to operate Belcom's "Radio 24 and "Tele Züri" stations but will not take over Tele 24, which is to close in November.
Schawinski, 56, said the government's policy of favouring state channels was partly to blame for the closure of Tele 24. He said that only when the new broadcasting laws come into effect in 2004, would there be any form of level playing field for private operators.
A drop in advertising revenue was also cited as a reason.
But Armin Walpen, director general of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, which owns swissinfo, said Tele 24 was too small to survive as an independent broadcaster. He added that the station was a simply a business failure.
"I think Schwinski should have focused on Tele Züri, and not Tele 24. The former is a niche product, which has a future in the face of strong competition."
In a statement, communications officials expressed their regret over the discontinuation of Tele 24 and described the sale of the Belcom group as another step towards media monopoly in Switzerland.
Belcom informed its employees, 80 of whom will lose their jobs, about the sale on Wednesday. According to a statement issued by the company, each of its 200 employees will receive SFr4,000 for every year they worked for the company. This could amount to a total of about SFr4 million.
Before the sale Schawinski controlled 56 per cent of Belcom, with 40 per cent in the hands of Credit Suisse First Boston.
Schawinski is regarded as one of the pioneers of independent broadcasting in Switzerland. He started his career with "Radio 24" in Italy 22 years ago.
swissinfo with agencies