Researchers have warned that Swiss news websites are being hit hard by a fall-off in quality journalism and stagnating revenue. Only three news platforms were considered both popular and successful in an annual media survey.
The findings were released by the Zurich-based Research Institute for the Public Sphere and Society on Wednesday.
Last year there were only 12 online news sites compared with 45 newspapers, falling short of high expectations of increased media variety, a key element in a democracy according to the researchers.
“The opposite has happened. The internet has not opened up new opportunities for broader coverage of hard news,” said Mark Eisenegger of Zurich University.
He added the leading Tamedia publishing house had continued to increase its share in the online news market by about three per cent over the previous year.
Because they also provide online news on their sites, Switzerland’s biggest telecommunications company, Swisscom, and American multinational software firm Microsoft were among the runners-up, ahead of the public Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, the parent company of swissinfo.
No Swiss news site qualifies as part of the top tier of the national media though and only two sites are considered to be of average quality.
However, subscriber-only online news sites appear to have improved, offering more context to their readers.
Kurt Imhof, a sociologist and senior member of the research institute, said it might be part of a market strategy by publishers to lower the quality of online free sheets to promote the introduction of paywalls for premium news sites.
Tabloid ahead of free sheets
The authors of the survey have also noted a trend towards more politically and socially relevant news in the tabloid press, including Blick or Le Matin.
“The free-sheets seem to have lost ground at the expense of re-politicised tabloid dailies,” said Eisenegger.
The researchers suggested that Switzerland might have to consider new forms of financing quality media, be it through the introduction of an advertising tax or the creation of an independent foundation promoting quality journalism and providing a vital service for the public in a democratic society.
Imhof said he agreed with a controversial statement by the defence minister and current Swiss president Ueli Maurer, who told the annual meeting of publishers that mainstream media dominated Switzerland.
Publishers have slammed the study as flawed. They said it the methods used to were not serious and the definition of quality was not clear.