Senate commission discusses swissinfo fate
The Senate’s foreign affairs commission says it places a high value on the international mandate of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), filled by swissinfo.
Friday’s statement comes in response to a decision by the SBC in March that it would axe up to 80 jobs and eight language services at swissinfo, leaving only a reduced English department.
The commission also called for a comprehensive debate to be held in the Senate on the future of swissinfo/Swiss Radio International.
Members had previously heard arguments on how the restructuring could affect the Swiss abroad and Switzerland’s image internationally.
The commission is not the first to debate the future of swissinfo. Two key commissions in the House of Representatives have already spoken out against the proposed cuts.
The House’s foreign affairs committee said it was against "radical" cutbacks, arguing that the news portal should be a priority for the SBC.
The traffic and communications commission demanded that the government should pay half of swissinfo’s budget, and that this should be enshrined in the new radio and television law, due to be debated in the House in the autumn.
The commissions are trying to iron out differences between the two chambers, with the House wanting the government to fund swissinfo "as a rule" while the Senate favours periodic agreements to be negotiated between the government and the SBC.
The SBC said it was forced to restructure swissinfo after the government decided to end funding for the international service by the end of 2005.
If the plan goes ahead, swissinfo’s German, French and Italian services would be produced by the SBC’s regional units, and the Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese departments would be cut.
However, the SBC president, Jean-Bernard Münch, has said the corporation may reconsider its plan if government funding were to return.
"We won’t, however, return to the swissinfo as it is today," he warned.
The cutbacks have been harshly 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 fighting to keep the service open.
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.
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 the service to ten journalists.
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