Switzerland is a small, landlocked country in the heart of Western Europe whose key feature is its cultural diversity. Surrounded by Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France, there are as many as four different official languages: German, spoken by 64 percent of the population, French (19 percent), Italian (8 percent) and Romance (<1 percent) - which define four different mentalities. The remaining 8 percent can be attributed to the languages spoken by immigrants. Foreigners account for some 22 percent of the population. The multilevel system of government (federal, regional and local) is the result of the country’s socio-cultural and socio-political diversity. This structure, on the one hand, creates opportunities for political articulation also in the media but, on the other hand,it is also responsible for a variety of tensions among interest groups on these three levels.
The main features of the traditional and digital media in Switzerland are the persisting important role of the public broadcaster Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR, recently challenged by private commercial publishers and broadcasters, an ongoing digitisation of the terrestrial TV and the convergence of Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), Internet Radio and Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB-T). This, along with the increasing online convergence leads to fierce competition for vanishing advertising money. A general shift is taking place from the traditional to the digital media (online and social media), which can be seen in the declining overall circulation of newspapers since 2003 and in the declining revenue for traditional media organisations, leading to layoffs and divestitures and an increasing concentration within the daily and weekly press market. One must also note the structural weakness in information-based journalism and an increasing significance of soft news.
The Swiss media market is small and highly fragmented, subdivided into a relatively large German-language media market, a smaller French-language market in the west as well as a very small Italian-language market in the south of the country. At the same time, media ownership in Switzerland is highly concentrated. There are two large providers, the PSB SRG SSR, present in all parts of the country with its TV and radio programmes (German-language SRF, French-language RTS, Italian-language RSI), and the Swiss publishing house Tamedia AG, present in all three main language regions with its nationwide free paper 20 Minuten, 20 Minutes and 20 Minuti respectively.
The Federal Council has the legal right to issue licences to the public broadcaster SRG SSR and to provide it with funding from licence fee resources to produce radio (fully funded) and television (partially funded) programmes. Public service and the licence fee are, thus, inseparable. In return, SRG SSR is entrusted with a special mandate to provide all linguistic regions with programmes of equal quality on a public service basis. As much as 87 percent of the Swiss population listen to the radio and 65 percent watch TV on a daily basis, while 37 percent of the total advertising money goes to radio and TV. SRG SSR has to reflect the realities of Swiss life in all its facets, including politics, arts, society, economy, sports and entertainment. Its programmes are designed to help viewers and listeners find their ways in the complex realities of life in Switzerland. In particular, its programmes have to promote mutual understanding and exchange between the various parties, linguistic communities and cultures that exist in the country. Apart from the licence fee revenue, Swiss broadcasting is co-financed by advertising.
In 2015, SRG SSR received 1.196m Swiss Francs through licence fees, while advertising (only on TV - ads on national radio are prohibited) generated a revenue of 243m Swiss Francs. Sponsorship ads 55m Swiss Francs to the operating overall revenues of 1.607m Swiss Francs. Annually, a private user pays a licence fee of 165 Swiss Francs for radio reception and another 286 Swiss Francs for TV reception. Since the federal government has the final say as far as the actual amount of the licence fee is concerned, there is an element of dependency in the relationship between the SRG SSR and the state.
For the distribution of funds, there is a system of financial compensation in place, which transfers money from the largest linguistic region to the two smaller ones. The French and the Italian-language regions receive an over-proportional amount of the funding to enable them to produce and receive programmes that are of an equally high quality as in the German-speaking Switzerland. Although the licence-fee revenues from the German-speaking population add up to 70 percent of the of licence-fee revenues in total, the programme producers in that region only receive around 46 percent of the total amount. Without cross-subsidies - as a sort of contribution to national solidarity - it would be nearly impossible to set up and maintain a full television programme in all linguistic parts of Switzerland.
The newspaper sector continues to suffer from declining advertising and sales revenues, which are not even close to being compensated by gains made online. The willingness of consumers to pay for online news is low and the use of ad-blockers is widespread. Despite these problems, Tamedia AG achieved a record profit for 2015, and the NZZ media group also published sound figures. A significant part of Tamedia’s growing profit, however, is due to activities that don’t relate directly to news such as directory services and real estate listings. The turnovers of the five biggest publishing houses (2015) reads as follows: Tamedia AG (1064m Swiss Francs), Ringier (946m), NZZ-Gruppe (456m), AZ-Medien (243m) and Somedia (131m).
There are some digital innovations, invented by the leading publishing houses. Tamedia AG created a new division called Digital News & Development and the NZZ-Group has adopted a new management structure. Both the NZZ-Group and Ringier are participating in Facebook’s Instant Articles initiative. Moreover, the NZZ-Group is working with the Blendle news platform and has launched digital news offerings for the Austrian market. Last year, Tamedia AG launched the 12-App, which makes the best articles from various media titles available via a new digital subscription.
The economic and political pressure on the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR increased last year, orchestrated by the same leading publishing houses like Tamedia, AZ-Medien, the NZZ-Group and Somedia. In addition, right-wing populist politicians have intensified political pressure and launched a popular initiative which aims to abolish the provision of public funds to the public news service altogether. The vote on this hotly debated issue will be presumably in the year 2018. In 2016, a federal government report backed up the SBC and described the future role of the public news service in a more or less status-quo manner.
In fact, the SBC seems to be in good shape. In total, SRG SSR employs 6,101 people, full or part-time, that means 5047 full time equivalents (FTE). 43 percent of whom are women (2015). The average annual salary across all categories of staff is 107,000 Swiss Francs for a full time role at an average age of 45. The lowest salary was 52,400 Swiss Francs and the highest 557,434 Swiss Francs (2015). Overall, the share of female employees has made it up to 43 percent for many years. When it comes to journalistic positions, the share has reached even 44 percent.) Some 65 percent of all journalists have graduated at a university. Concerning the cost of programme production in 2015, news and other information services accounted for 39 percent of SRG SSR expenditure or 626m Swiss Francs. Light entertainment and films took up 22 percent of the budget; arts, society and education 19 percent; sports 11 percent and music and youth programmes 7 percent (Facts and Figures 2015/16, p. 26).
The commercial pressure on the press has led to contradictory effects with regard to political parallelism. On the one hand, there is a clear “re-politicisation” of the opinion-shaping press. In contrast to the former partisan press, this tendency of re-politicisation of daily newspapers doesn’t necessarily strengthen specific political parties. They rather follow certain political credos. For instance the NZZ Group, with all its newspapers, supports neoliberal policies and less the liberal party as such. The Ringier Group and Tamedia AG, with their tabloids and regional titles also favour bourgeois politics, albeit occasionally more progressive ones. For commercial and journalistic reasons however, the editors are not afraid to attack well-disposed politicians for the benefit of a good story. The Social Democrats and the Green Party which represent about 25 percent of the voters, do not have close relations to any commercial daily newspaper, while the most popular party, the National Conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP), can count on the support of the Basler Zeitung and the weekly magazine Weltwoche. Both strive for conservative and neoliberal basic values and are sceptical to state and friendly to economy. But it is also daily business in the journalistic field, that politicians grab journalists in order to get a juicy cover story. Overall, the opinion-forming press has also moved to the right in an opportunistic manner, parallel to the political climate in Switzerland.
When it comes to the development of the professionalisation of journalism, there are six dimensions of particular interest: organisation, education, ethics, autonomy, common community orientation and public recognition. Nearly half of all media professionals are organised in a professional association or in a trade union, albeit with a declining trend. Almost 70% of the journalists have a university degree. They generally demonstrate a high commitment to professional standards of ethics. In a recent survey, almost all agreed that journalists should stand by the codes of professional ethics, regardless of situation and context. Similarly, three out of four journalists report a high degree of autonomy concerning their selection of stories (Dingerkus et al., 2016). On the other hand, the majority of journalists say that journalist’s freedom has decreased as well as the credibility of journalism in the public. In short, the binding professional norms and rules have weakened and public-welfare-oriented motives have diminished, while the profit logic seems to dominate.