Main features of media legislation and policies:
- Guaranteed freedom of the press and freedom of trade.
- Mandate of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation to provide programmes reflecting and maintaining the linguistic and cultural diversity of the country.
- Mandate of the Swiss Broadcasting corporation to provide adequate supply of all regions.
- Four interest groups influencing, defining and enforcing the standards, norms and values of the Swiss media landscape.
- DETEC (Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications) and OFCOM (Federal Office of Communication / Bakom) supervising the performance of Swiss radio and television broadcasting.
- Institutionalised programme-controlling and quality-ensuring authorities (UBI, Ombudsman).
Freedom of the press, radio and television is guaranteed by the Swiss Federal Constitution (art. 16). The institutionalisation and organisation of radio and television is based on article 93 of the new Swiss Federal Constitution. This article of the Constitution states that legislation is a federal government matter, not only on radio, and television, but also on online services (see Dumermuth 2016).
Article 93/4 also explicitly calls for the protection of the written press, which is completely commercialised. There is, however, no legal obligation for the Swiss press to fulfil a public service mandate. Private commercial media enterprises are only subject to free entrepreneurial decisions and, of course, the market. Opposite, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation with its 17 radio and seven TV stations must contribute to free opinion-forming education, cultural development and entertaining. Public media services have to take into consideration the country’s particular characteristics and needs of the cantons. They have to present events factually and reflect the full diversity of views. In addition, the constitution (art 93/4) also guarantees independence from state influence. Finally, the constitution provides for an expert supervisory complaints board (UBI), which is independent of both, the authorities and the parliament (art 93/5). In short, with regard to the press, there is no regulation at all. With regard to broadcasting, the regulation is fairly complex and rigid.
The Radio and Television Act encompasses SBC’s programming remit, defines how its services are to be distributed, how SCB is to be structured and how is to be financed. According to the law on the electronic media public service provider must:
- Contribute to the unrestricted formation of opinion, to the provision of general, wide-ranging and accurate information for listeners and viewers for their education and entertainment, and communicate knowledge on citizens’ rights and obligations in the democratic decision-making processes.
- Take into account the diversity of the country and its inhabitants, reflect this diversity, and promote mutual understanding.
- Promote Swiss cultural creativity and stimulate listeners and viewers to participate in cultural life.
- Facilitate contact with Swiss nationals living abroad and promote the presence of Switzerland and understanding of its interests abroad.
- Focus on Swiss audio-visual productions, especially films, and broadcast as many European productions as possible.
- No preference of specific political parties, interests or ideologies.
- Providing the different parts of the country adequately with radio and television programmes.
The charter, issued by the federal council lays down in even greater detail the remit which SBC must fulfil across all its public media services (see Facts and Figures 2015/2016 SRG SSR, p 36/37)
With its radio services, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation has to offer three stations in each of the German-, French- and Italian-language regions; one Romansch-language station; one youth service for German-speaking Switzerland; each of one music stations for classical music, jazz, and pop; one German-language news and current affairs station
With its television services, SBC has to offer two HDTV channels in each of the German-, French- and Italian-language regions; programming for the Romansch-language region; one German-language repeats channel; one service in French, providing continuously updated information and schedule notes via the Internet; first-run Internet programming covering political, economic, cultural and sports events relevant to the language regions or the nation as a whole.
SRG online services comprise online content relating to programmes (direct, real-time and thematic reference to editorial programmes or parts of programmes); online content not related to programmes in the form of text articles under the headings of news, sports and regional/local (limited to a maximum of 1,000 characters per article); background and context information about programmes; basic briefings in connection with educational programmes; audience forums and games connected with specific programmes; a multilingual international online service (Swissinfo); an online service for the Italian-speaking audience living close to the Swiss border (Tvsvizzera.it).
Even in the age of the Internet and digitisation, Switzerland remains committed to an independent and comprehensive public service in the media sector. To continue to face the challenge of digitisation, the framework conditions for licensed radio and television broadcasters at the national and regional level must be adapted. In a recently published report, the Federal Council came to the conclusion that for direct democracy in Switzerland, the existing model with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC or SRG SSR) as a major provider anchored in all linguistic regions has proved itself. It guarantees a high-quality public service. The Federal Council evaluates this model to be most suitable for the future. However, the demands on the SRG SSR must be made more stringent - though with the same budget. Furthermore, the SRG SSR ought to make efforts to better address the requests and needs of young people who turn away from “traditional” media to use the Internet.
The Council of State’s Transport and Telecommunications Committees (TTC) commissioned the Federal Council to examine the SRG SSR’s public service offerings including the private-sector broadcasters. The report depicts a media landscape which is undergoing profound changes. Digitisation has changed media usage habits, and media offerings have multiplied. The younger generations in particular are more and more turning away from the classic or traditional media. Young people use public service programming lesser than older people. For example, SRF television reaches only 20 percent of people under 24, but 70 percent of the over-60s. However, the Federal Council defended more or less the status quo in its conclusions:
- It is essential that Switzerland continues to have an independent and comprehensive public service funded by a solid system of fees in the future.
- Switzerland’s federalist, multilingual structure needs an audio-visual landscape, which takes all population groups into account.
- The SBC is a key factor for the integration of all social groupings (language communities, people with sensory disabilities, different generations, people with a migration background) and for the functioning of direct democracy.
- The existing public service model has worked satisfactorily and meets the requirements Thus, it must be adapted to the digital environment.
- For the legitimation of the public service, it is important that in the future the SBC must clearly differ from the commercial suppliers.
- The mixed financing (licence fee and advertising) of SBC service public has proven itself.
- The current financial resources of the SBC are sufficient to ensure the public service.
- The SBC’s existing advertising restrictions, in particular the online advertising ban, should be maintained.
- The licensed regional programme providers as well as the SRG should cooperate more closely with commercial media companies in the future.
The Federal Council has also taken position to the proposal of abolishing the licence fees to fund the SBC. The government rejects the popular initiative launched by members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and the Centre-right Radical Party. They claim that the SBC abuses its dominant market position. The Communication Ministry warned that the SBC could no longer fulfil their mandate and small languages minorities in particular would be hardest hit if licence fees were abolished.
To get a more in-depth view on the mass media regulation, law, subsidies, etc, the website of the Federal Office for Communication presents adequate information. The annual report of SRG SSR offers further information on structures and future reforms of the public broadcast landscape. The professional association Impressum publishes the magazine EDITO bimonthly. Another source is the trade journal Werbewoche. When it comes to daily newspapers, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung still has a sort of media section that provides its readers with different topics connected to media and media technologies once a week. Medienwoche.ch is also a viable source for researchers and journalists.