In the debate about the planned measures in favor of the media, Federal Councilor Simonetta Sommaruga meets her opponents. The decisive votes were fought hard but fairly.
The Swiss media landscape is becoming increasingly thin. Over 70 newspaper titles have disappeared in 20 years and advertising revenues continue to collapse. At the same time, a structural change is noticeable: while the traditional print media are losing subscribers, online media are attracting a growing readership.
The guests in the studio
As a supporter of the template:
- Simonetta Sommaruga, Federal Councilor and Head of DETEC
Competing against the submission:
- Peter Weigelt, former National Councilor FDP/SG and President of the Referendum Committee
- Esther Friedli, National Councilor SVP/SG
- Philip Gut, Journalist and Executive Secretary of the Referendum Committee
- Marc Rudisuli, President The Young Center
Also for template and in the studio:
- Martin Candinas, National Council Die Mitte/GR
- Andrea Masuger, Chairman of the Association of Publishers and Board of Directors Somedia
- Martina Fehr, Director of the Media Training Center MAZ and President of the Press Council Foundation
The Federal Council and Parliament are now calling for a package of measures to provide the media with additional financial support. For the time being, smaller and regional media would benefit from this, according to the tenor of the federal government. In the “Arena” for the vote on February 13, Media Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, representing the Federal Council and Parliament, faced the opponents of the bill.
Controversial where the additional money goes
Because so far it is unclear to whom the millions will be distributed in detail. Federal Councilor Sommaruga repeatedly returned to the declared main concern of the bill in the program. The aim is to strengthen small and medium-sized media so that local reporting is guaranteed – in all language regions. The media minister also emphasized the urgency of the measures.
Because the media would increasingly lose advertising revenue to international platforms such as Google and Facebook. The financial pressure is weakening local reporting. “Every time a newspaper disappears in the region, it’s a loss for the population,” said Sommaruga. Because then there would be no editorial team on site that knows the people and keeps an eye on the authorities, said the former consumer advocate.
Large publishers would also benefit
This means, for example, the TX Group or Ringier, which would benefit from the package of measures. Peter Weigelt, former FDP national councilor and president of the referendum committee, says the bill would cement the status quo of today’s large corporations. The opponents were particularly bothered by the fact that the previous circulation limit of 40,000 copies for indirect press funding would be lifted.
As a result, large media groups would also benefit from cheaper mail delivery. “Most of the additional money will go to the big publishers, who are already making a lot of profits,” said SVP National Councilor Esther Friedli. Little is left for the smaller media. “The template misses what you actually wanted,” says Friedli.
Another point of contention in the program was whether the media would remain independent or democracy would be endangered if the proposal were approved. Both supporters and opponents agreed that the media, as the fourth estate in the state, have a central function, they exercise a certain control function and uncover grievances. To do this, they must be independent and be able to maintain a critical distance from the authorities.
Critical journalism is impaired
Namely, if the media became financially dependent on the state, which they should actually criticize, says Philipp Gut, journalist and managing director of the referendum committee. The planned direct funding of online media, which would provide direct financial support to editorial offices, was particularly explosive. “This would allow officials in Bern to decide whether to talk money or not,” says Esther Friedli. That obviously means that there are dependencies between the funding state and the media.
Martin Candinas, Center Member of the National Council, disagrees that the independence of the media will not be affected by the state funding. “If the criteria are clear and there is no performance mandate, as is the case with this template, then independence is maintained,” he said. Without this template you would first get into this dependency, because then it would be financiers who financed the media. That is detrimental to transparency, because “then you never really know how the newspapers are financed,” says Candina.
The debate in the “Arena” has shown that the proposal is a large dossier into which many special interests have been incorporated. According to the GFS survey commissioned by SRG, the outcome of the February 13 vote is still completely open: 48 percent of those surveyed are currently in favor of media funding, and just as many want to reject the package of measures.
That’s what the template is about
On February 13, Swiss voters will decide on a package of measures to promote the media.
So-called indirect press funding already exists today. This includes, for example, cheaper mail delivery for the media. The federal law on a package of measures in favor of the media provides for an increase in the annual funding from CHF 30 to 50 million for the discounted delivery of subscribed newspapers.
In addition, early and Sunday delivery would also be cheaper by CHF 40 million. Furthermore, the funds for the reduced delivery of club and association magazines are to be increased from CHF 20 to 30 million.
Direct press funding is to be added to these measures. Online media would be financed directly with 30 million Swiss francs per year. Only online media that are co-financed by their readership are funded. Free offers are not supported.
23 million francs are also earmarked for the training and further education of journalists, for the press council or the news agencies. And another 28 million will benefit local and regional radio and television stations.
A total of CHF 151 million per year is at stake, with which the federal government intends to provide additional funding for the media over the next seven years.