The conservative right Swiss People’s Party has suffered a setback in its controversial plans to extend the scope of a planned parliamentary debate next year about services by public broadcasters.
On Thursday the Senate threw out a proposal forcing the government to formally examine three parliamentary requests and include them in a wide-ranging report in the second half of 2016.
It thereby overruled a decision taken by the other parliamentary chamber, the House of Representatives, after heated debate on Wednesday.
Opponents said the political right was trying to set a precedent ahead of the debate and put additional pressure on the government.
They said a strong public broadcaster was crucial for a country like Switzerland with four language groups: German, French, Italian and Romansh.
People’s Party parliamentarian Nathalie Rickli has argued the government is unwilling to answer critical questions about the dominant position of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company.
Communications Minister Doris Leuthard dismissed the allegations, saying the report would include all aspects of the role and the public mandate of the media in a rapidly changing technological environment.
“We are not so stupid to provide you with an incomplete report,” she told the Senate.
The publicly funded SBC has come under pressure, notably from the business community, to justify its annual budget of about CHF1.4 billion ($1.4 billion).
An initiative, launched by the youth chapters of the People’s Party and the centre-right Radical Party, is trying to ban broadcasters funded by public money.
Earlier this year, voters narrowly approved a decision by parliament to reform Switzerland’s public radio and television funding system. It foresees that all households, including businesses, pay an annual licence fee whether they have a radio or TV set or not. Part of the revenue also goes to private, regional media.
The influential Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises challenged the decision to a nationwide vote, arguing the reform was flawed. But it failed to win the vote by a small margin.
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch