Regulatory authorities

Since 1984 the Independent Authority for Programme Complaints (UBI) has evaluated complaints about programming. The Authority comprises nine part-time members appointed by the Federal Council, and a secretariat. It is not bound in its area of responsibility by any instructions from neither the Federal Assembly, the Federal Council nor the Federal Administration. The UBI submits an annual report on its activities to the Federal Council.

The committee judges individual programmes according to professional norms and social values. In practice, the procedure works as follows: Within twenty days of the initial transmission of a certain programme, anyone can lodge a complaint about a certain programme before the conciliation body of the broadcaster that has aired the programme (Ombudsman’s Office).

The Ombudsman will then investigate the matter and try to mediate between the parties. If the person lodging the complaint is still not satisfied with the Ombudsman’s findings, he or she can complain to the UBI. The complaint must be countersigned by at least twenty people. UBI’s final decision can be challenged in the Federal Court. The UBI complaint procedure was originally designed to secure certain reporting standards. However, the number of complaints being filed through lawyers is growing and some proceedings thus take on a legal dimension.

The Ombudsman’s Office and the UBI have to balance freedom of speech of producers and viewers, and the responsibility of electronic media to inform citizens in a reliable way. The institutionalisation of programme-controlling authorities is an interesting, but also problematic way to secure the quality of programmes and the interests of viewers.

The Independent Complaints Authority for Radio and Television (UBI) is an extra-parliamentary federal commission which rules on complaints against: 

  • Radio and television programmes provided by national, regional and local Swiss broadcasters.
  • Other journalistic material published by the national broadcaster, SRG SSR, encompassing online content, Teletext bulletins, programme-related information, international news,information services and accompanying material for individual programmes
  • Refused access to a radio or television programme (editorial content or publicity) of a Swiss broadcaster.
  • Refused access to the editorial content of other journalistic services provided by SBC. 

The UBI determines whether any violation of the relevant provisions of national and international law has been committed. This includes compliance with the requirements of appropriateness and diversity, observance of fundamental rights, protection of minorities and the prohibition of glorification or extenuation of violence. Appeals against decisions of the UBI may be lodged directly with the Federal Supreme Court. Before a complaint can be filed with the UBI, the proceedings must be brought before the office of the ombudsman who acts as arbitrator and mediator The UBI is organised in a quasi-judicial fashion. The Authority’s proceedings are normally held in public. In the past years, most complaints have been filed in the television sector, while the number of complaints against radio is almost negligible.

OFCOM Bakom and DETEC are in charge of supervising the performance of Swiss radio and television broadcasting. The Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM) is part of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) and performs tasks both for the DETEC and for the Federal Communications Commission (ComCom). OFCOM's mandate derives from the Telecommunications Act (TCA), the Federal Act on Radio and Television (RTVA) and the Postal Services Act. The mission in relation to the media reads as follows:

  • To guarantee the general conditions for strengthening a diverse media system which contributes to democratic opinion-forming and decision-making,
  • To put into place the necessary conditions for ensuring a public identity-building service at the national, regional/linguistic and local levels in the area of the electronic media,
  • To create a basis for sustainable support for the media. 

Concerning the ethical standards within the media industry, the Press Council serves the public and the media as an appeal board. The Press Council looks into complaints brought to it or takes a stand itself on questions regarding the professional ethics of journalists. The area of responsibility of the Press Council covers editorial content or related questions of professional ethics in regard to all public media. Decisions of the Swiss Press Council are based on the “Declaration of the Duties and Rights of the Journalist”. However, the Press Council cannot enforce its decisions and the media organisations have no obligation to publish it.