Swiss abroad against swissinfo cutbacks
The Council of the Swiss Abroad has spoken out against plans to restructure swissinfo.
The council, which represents the interests of more than 600,000 Swiss living abroad, said on Saturday that swissinfo must have sufficient resources to secure its future.
Meeting in Bern, the council rejected plans by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) to significantly reduce swissinfo’s online service.
Newspaper reports earlier this week said the SBC management was proposing to cut all of swissinfo’s foreign language sites except its English service.
The plans would also hand over responsibility for providing news in the three official Swiss languages to the country’s national broadcasting units.
The council passed a resolution demanding that the SBC continue to provide swissinfo with "sufficient financial means and the personnel to ensure a high quality international service in German, French, Italian and other important world languages".
The resolution adds that a specialised service is "indispensable" if the SBC is to fulfil its mandate of providing news and information for an international audience.
"swissinfo should remain an integral part of the SBC," said Georg Stucky, council president.
Rudolf Wyder, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (ASO), said a unit "geared to providing information for the whole world cannot be replaced by a domestic service recycling news".
Yes to Schengen/Dublin
At its meeting, the council also voted overwhelmingly in favour of accepting the Schengen/Dublin accords with the European Union, on closer cooperation on security and asylum policy.
"I’m not surprised," Stucky told swissinfo. "The Swiss abroad have always tended to favour an opening up of the country. This is a step in that direction."
The council also repeated its support for retention of dual nationality. The resolution came in response to a proposal by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to abolish the privilege. The government rejected the proposal last month.
More than 70 per cent of the Swiss abroad have dual nationality.
At the end of 2004, 95,000 Swiss expatriates registered to vote, and the council expects to reach the symbolic 100,000 mark over the next 12 months.
Another focus of the meeting was the support provided for Swiss citizens affected by catastrophes while abroad.
In the case of the tsunami disaster in southeast Asia, the ASO assisted with a telephone hotline for families looking for missing relatives.
The hotline was at times overloaded and Wyder welcomed the idea of supplementing the system with an internet forum. "Such a forum could for example be operated by swissinfo," he said.
The organisation also suggested that consulates be set up in regions popular with Swiss tourists, such as Phuket in Thailand or on the Greek island of Crete, in order to provide aid faster and more efficiently.
At the end of 2004:
623,057 Swiss were living abroad - 10,000 more than in 2003.
95,325 registered to vote in Switzerland - 6,000 more than in 2003.
The Council of the Swiss Abroad is known as the "parliament of the Fifth Switzerland".
The council consists of 150 delegates from Switzerland and around the world. On September 1, elections for the council's next four-year term will be held.
The council was founded in 1916 and represents the interests of the Swiss abroad.
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