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Soft and hard news Media quality in decline, say researchers

Researchers found that mobile online Swiss media aim for a large audience with infotainment.

(Keystone)


The quality of Swiss media continues to suffer, undermining the democratic system, according to researchers. But a debate on the fundamental values of journalism in society is gathering pace.

The 2013 Yearbook from the Zurich-based Research Institute for the Public Sphere and Society, published on Monday, found that shrinking financial means, job cuts and the ready availability of free information print – both online and in print – have had a damaging impact on quality in the Swiss media sector.

Presenting the report’s main findings, sociology professor Kurt Imhof argued that, notably, soft news and so-called infotainment had the biggest audience and generated the highest revenue.

“Quality journalism providing background and a broad view is not rewarded,” he said, adding that “this is disastrous for a democracy”.

The researchers also noted that the rightwing Swiss People’s Party is over-represented in media reports, notably in online channels via mobile devices and on social media in Switzerland.

When it came to overall reporting quality, public radio again came in at the top ahead of three major newspapers – the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Le Temps and TagesAnzeiger  – as well as the various Sunday newspapers and public television.

Debate underway

Imhof welcomed a broader debate that has set in about media quality over the past few months.

He pointed out a report by a government media advisory commission, a study by the Avenir Suisse think tank and a recent publication by the Association of Swiss Publishers.

Imhof, a lead author of the yearbook, concluded that strengthening editorial competence and independence on a local level is key to the future of quality journalism in Switzerland, given the country’s various language regions and federalist structure.

Peter Studer, a leading expert on media law, warned of negative consequences if nothing is done to stop the decline in media quality.

The 2013 Yearbook is the fifth annual study by the Foundation for the Public Sphere and Society in cooperation with the University of Zurich.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch


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