Swiss in Italy slam swissinfo cutbacks

Delegates in Italy voted in favour of keeping swissinfo swissinfo.ch

After France and Germany, the Swiss community living in Italy has added its voice to the protests against the cutbacks at swissinfo.

This content was published on May 22, 2005 - 13:21

At its annual meeting in Angera on the shores of Lake Maggiore, the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad in Italy adopted a resolution condemning the plans to reduce the service.

The move comes in response to a decision by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) – swissinfo’s parent company – in March that it would axe up to 80 jobs and eight language services at swissinfo, leaving only a reduced English department.

At the meeting on Saturday, the organisation said that it "firmly opposed" the cuts to "their media".

The 200 delegates, representing around 40,000 Swiss living in Italy, said that the provision of information for the Swiss abroad should remain part of the SBC’s public-service mandate.

They also pointed out in the resolution that "information for the 10,000 Swiss voters in Italy was, in certain cases, of fundamental importance".

The resolution against the cutbacks is the third of its kind to be adopted by a national organisation of the Swiss abroad in the last few months.

In April Swiss citizens living in France, the largest community of Swiss abroad at 170,000 people, also condemned the move. Swiss living in Germany (70,000) followed suit at the beginning of May.

Discordant voice

However, there was one discordant voice at the meeting. Banker Claudio Generali, in Angera to give a talk on the Swiss banking situation - the main topic at the meeting - also sits on the administrative board of the SBC.

While he did not dispute the usefulness of the swissinfo website for the Swiss abroad and for Switzerland’s image, he said that there was a question mark over its funding.

"If you want this presence... the state has to take on the costs and not the SBC. I don’t know of any neighbouring country in which the state does not take on this duty," he told delegates.

The SBC has 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 proposal 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.

Support

However, the resolution gained support from Bruno Spinner, the Swiss ambassador in Rome.

"Of course finances are not unlimited, even in Switzerland," Spinner told delegates at the meeting. "But it’s important that one continues to provide this information for the Swiss abroad and the international public in the main languages."

"swissinfo doesn’t have to be a Ferrari, but it should remain a quality car. It’s right that the taxpayer pays for this service," he added.

Spinner said he was convinced that the government should make "an important contribution" to swissinfo.

But he said that the exact amount was now in the hands of the politicians.

Parliament is due to debate the future of swissinfo during its autumn session.

swissinfo, Mariano Masserini in Angera

Key facts

Swiss abroad:
Italy: more than 40,000.
France: 170,000.
Germany: 70,000.
Overall: 623,000 of which 100,000 vote.

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In brief

Two key commissions in the House of Representatives have already spoken out against the cuts at swissinfo and a Senate commission has called for a comprehensive debate to be held on the subject.

swissinfo’s public council – which assesses whether the site is carrying out its mandate – has also condemned the decision. Staff at swissinfo are also fighting to keep the service open.

On Saturday the Radio and Television Association for the canton of Bern and the German-speaking parts of the cantons of Fribourg and Valais also accepted a resolution in favour of keeping swissinfo and Teletext.

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