Fresh parliamentary support for swissinfo

swissinfo currently offers its services in nine languages swissinfo.ch

A key parliamentary commission says it is against proposed cuts at swissinfo and has called on the government to ensure funding for the news portal.

This content was published on May 3, 2005 - 16:54

The House of Representatives' traffic and communications commission agreed on Tuesday that the government should pay half of swissinfo’s budget.

The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) announced on March 22 that it would axe up to 80 jobs and eight language services at swissinfo, leaving only a reduced English department.

Internet services in the national languages – German, French and Italian – would continue to be produced by the SBC’s regional units.

It follows the government’s decision to end funding for swissinfo by the end of 2005, which led to 26 job losses in 2004.

The SBC says its plan should result in annual savings of SFr15 million ($12.4 million). The decision is, however, subject to parliamentary approval.

The House of Representatives’ commission, which deals with issues regarding transportation, postal services, telecommunications and the media, said in a statement that it was in favour of maintaining swissinfo.

The announcement comes almost a month after the foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives said it was against "radical" cutbacks at swissinfo, arguing that the portal should be a priority for the SBC.

The transport and communications commission said a majority of its members – 14 to seven – had agreed that the government should co-fund the internet portal and that this should be enshrined in the new radio and television law, which is due to be debated in the House in the autumn.

Will of parliament

"The commission wanted to give a sign that it is the clear will of parliament to keep swissinfo and to provide funding from the government," said the commission.

The announcement came after the commission heard from the SBC, swissinfo, the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, the foreign ministry as well as the employees’ union, SSM.

The meeting was aimed at ironing out differences of opinion between the Senate and the House of Representatives over swissinfo’s funding.

In a preliminary debate during its spring session, the House of Representatives called for the government to fund swissinfo "as a rule" whereas the Senate had wanted periodic agreements to be negotiated between the government and the SBC.

However, the commission said on Tuesday that it had not been able to reach an agreement on other differences within the new radio and TV law and that the House of Representatives was only likely to consider the law in its autumn session.

Reactions

SBC president Jean-Bernard Münch, who was at the meeting, told SBC’s French-speaking radio that, if accepted, the commission’s decision would not necessarily compromise the SBC’s plans.

"The return to a 50 per cent subsidy would be a step in the right direction," said Münch. "It’s clear that we are ready to discuss with the [government] improvements to the envisaged offer with regard to our decision."

He added that if government funding was to return, then the SBC would consider increasing the number of languages – currently four - offered under its new plan.

"We won’t, however, return to the swissinfo such as it is today," warned Münch.

Meanwhile, unions welcomed the commission’s decision, adding that the SBC should now abandon its plans for swissinfo until the new law had been debated.

"The world of politics has supported the voice of Switzerland abroad and recognised its essential value on the economic and political fronts," said three unions – SSM, Comedia and Impressum – in a joint statement.

They also called on the communications ministry, which is due to rule on the SBC’s plan, to reject the proposed cuts at swissinfo.

Criticism

The decision to cut back the nine-language site, which includes services in Arabic, Spanish and Chinese, has already been criticised by the Council of the Swiss Abroad, which represents the interests of more than 600,000 expatriates.

swissinfo’s public council – which assesses whether the site is carrying out its mandate – has also condemned the decision. Staff at swissinfo are also fighting to keep the service open.

The SBC says that it has to reduce swissinfo in response to the government’s decision to end funding for the site. It maintains that swissinfo will still have an English service and produce special dossiers in national languages for the Swiss abroad.

swissinfo

Key facts

swissinfo was launched in 1999 as the internet arm of Swiss Radio International.
It is available in nine languages: English, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese.
Its task is to inform Swiss abroad and to raise awareness of Switzerland in other countries.
Founded in 1934, it has a staff of 120.

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In brief

In 2004 the government provided SFr17 million for swissinfo and reduced it to SFr5 million for 2005 – the last year that it will subsidise the service.

The budget cuts led to 26 redundancies in 2004 and the SBC plans call for about 80 more job cuts by the end of 2006.

The SBC is aiming to save SFr16 million with the cuts at swissinfo and reduce to service to ten journalists.

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