For those who want specific information
SRG's legal mandate and Charter
Legislation and Charter require SRG services to consider eight aspects
What aspects must SRG incorporate in all its offerings?
- National cohesion (e.g. finding out what's going on in different language regions)
- Integration (of foreigners and also people with sensory disabilities, for example by using subtitles and audio-described programmes)
- Promoting democracy (by ensuring freedom to form opinions on political, economic and social issues. Conflicts, political debates and referendum issues, for instance, must always be considered from various different angles and dealt with objectively)
- Promoting Swiss culture (especially in the fields of film, music and literature, for example by agreeing the "Pacte de l’audiovisuel" with the film industry)
- Foreign mandate (collaboration with the two international TV providers TV5Monde Monde and 3Sat and the two Internet offerings SWI swissinfo and tvsvizzera.it)
What does the Charter require from SRG in terms of quality?
The SRG Charter says:
- SRG services must meet high qualitative and ethical requirements. Its individual service areas are guided by the service mandate and are characterised by credibility, a sense of responsibility, relevance and professional journalism. SRG ensures its services are distinctive, thereby differentiating itself from commercially orientated providers.
- SRG aims to achieve a high degree of acceptance in its various target audiences. It does not measure acceptance primarily in terms of market share.
- In order to implement the points outlined in paragraphs 1 and 2, it defines formal content-related quality standards. It publishes these standards, conducts regular internal quality checks and informs the general public of their findings.
Source: SRG Charter, Article 3
What does the Charter require with regard to broadcasting SRG services?
If SRG wants to set up a new television or radio service, it is only allowed to do so if the Federal Council agrees to change the Charter accordingly. The Charter describes exactly which radio and TV services are broadcast in which language regions. And it also describes in detail the technology to be used when broadcasting these services – DAB+, VHF, DVB-T or satellite, for example. If SRG wishes to discontinue a service this is possible only if the Federal Council approves a change to the Charter. Articles 4 to 11 of the Charter deal with the contents and broadcasting issues.
Why do legislation and the Charter require SRG to collaborate with third parties?
SRG is an important producer of audio-visual content in Switzerland. Thanks to licence revenue, it has sufficient funding to dominate the film industry. This could damage smaller members of the industry. Legislation and the Charter therefore stipulate measures to prevent this market leadership position from being abused and to ensure a wide variety of opinions and content are provided outside and alongside SRG as well. SRG is therefore obliged to work together with the Swiss film industry, the audio-visual industry, the Swiss music industry, other Swiss providers, national media archives and, if possible, with international programme partners. There is, for example, an agreement with the film industry that stipulates that SRG invests around 27,5 million Swiss francs a year in co-productions ("pacte de l'audiovisuel"). Alongside the Swiss Confederation, SRG is one of the most important patrons of the Swiss film industry. The Swiss Music Charter was signed specifically in order to promote the Swiss music industry. In this charter, SRG commits to broadcasting a certain percentage of Swiss music on the radio each year.
Articles 15 to 21 of the Charter cover collaboration with other partners.
What is SRG allowed and not allowed to do online?
SRG's online offering focuses on audio and audio-visual content. The Charter allows SRG to post audio/video offerings (on-demand) that are intended exclusively or initially for the Internet (web-only) – in other words, content that does not have to be broadcast first on radio or television. By contrast, live streaming is subject to the regulations of Art. 9: SRG may transmit events of third parties in the fields of politics, sport, business and culture live on the Internet if they are significant either at the national or language-region level.
Care must be taken with written contributions, however.
- 75% of all texts must be linked to audio-visual material.
- To protect print media, written contributions with no direct link to a programme that are posted in the news, sport and regional/local columns must not exceed 1,000 characters. Particular attention must also be paid when adding links – they may only be included if editorial criteria justify this. Purely commercial links are not permitted.
The SWI Swissinfo online service occupies a special position. To help Swiss people living abroad to keep in touch with their homeland and to promote Switzerland and an understanding of its issues abroad, SWI Swissinfo provides a multilingual, multimedia Internet offering for SRG in line with a service level agreement with the Swiss Confederation.
It is important that web content meets the same quality requirements as radio and TV content.
Online aspects are covered in Article 13 of the Charter.
What happens if SRG wants to do something that's not in its Charter?
The Federal Council will grant SRG a temporary charter that additionally details SRG's mandate for the relevant duration. Under certain circumstances, SRG can also undertake activities that are not governed by the Charter. However, it has to cover the associated costs itself and show them separately in its accounts.
Activities outside the scope of the Charter must not adversely affect the fulfilment of the service mandate. Nor must any such activities substantially restrict development opportunities for other media organizations. Ofcom must be informed immediately – and before the relevant activities commence – if the standing or the work of other Swiss media organizations could be adversely affected.
What basic organizational characteristics does SRG have to have?
The Federal Radio and Television Act (RTVA) plus associated ordinance and Charter define SRG's basic organizational and financial characteristics. SRG must be operated in accordance with company law. As necessary bodies, the Act lists a general assembly (in SRG, this is called the Delegates' Meeting), a board of directors, auditors and an executive board. SRG has to fund itself primarily through licence-fee revenue. The licence fee level is set by the Federal Council. These fees not only fund SRG but also cover the financial requirements of other broadcasters with a service mandate, the licence fee collection body (Swisscom subsidiary Billag) and the Foundation for Audience Research (Mediapulse). The Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (Detec) is responsible for SRG's financial supervision.
What role does SRG play in the event of crises and emergencies?
In severe crises – and only then – SRG is the Federal Council's official information body. Special service agreements with the Schweizerische Depeschenagentur (SDA) and SRG ensure that the Federal Council can call on the Swiss people at any time. If it is necessary to give the population specific instructions, the authorities can arrange for a security alert to be issued via the information system Icaro (Information Catastrophe Alarme Radio Organisation). In this case, radio plays an important role as the fastest medium. In the event of a general siren alarm, SRG will interrupt its radio programmes for important announcements. SRG also makes arrangements to broadcast an emergency radio service, even if the regular transmission network is interrupted.
All these services are detailed in special service agreements and will only be used in crises and emergency situations.
Legal aspects for legal experts and laypeople alike: SRG and its legal foundations
What links SRG to the Federal Constitution?
The Federal Constitution is at the peak of the Swiss legal system. All Federal ordinances and decrees as well as all cantonal and municipal constitutions, laws, ordinances and decrees are subordinate to it. Articles 17 and 93 of the Federal Constitution are of particular importance for media companies. They not only ensure the independence of radio and television, but also define the basic parameters that the Confederation must observe when shaping the media system. They can be summarized as follows:
Radio and television:
- shall contribute to education and cultural development, to the free shaping of opinion and to entertainment
- shall take account of the particularities of the country and the needs of the cantons
- shall present events accurately and allow a diversity of opinions to be expressed appropriately.
So radio and television have to contribute towards the free shaping of opinion. The free shaping of opinion is seen as a key prerequisite for safeguarding democracy. The public must not be manipulated. They must be able to form their own views from the information provided. For this reason, opinions must be declared as such in programmes, and special care must be taken before elections and referendums to ensure the equal opportunities of parties and individual people.
The Federal Constitution also contains particular fundamental rights that may be relevant in connection with radio and television. These include freedom of opinion and information, freedom of the press, linguistic freedom and artistic freedom.
What is the Federal Radio and Television Act?
The Federal Radio and Television Act (RTVA) applies to all radio and TV broadcasters in Switzerland and governs the broadcasting, processing, transmission and reception of radio and television services. It also forms the basis for granting SRG its Charter. The RTVA is therefore the most important set of regulations for SRG. Like all laws, the RTVG is passed by Parliament.
Details (For details see "SRG's legal mandate and Charter" above).
What is a charter?
A charter is an official short-term permit. The SRG Charter is derived from the Federal Radio and Television Act (RTVA) but, unlike laws, is passed by the Federal Council rather than Parliament. All Swiss radio and TV broadcasters that want to profit from licence-fee revenue need a charter for this purpose, which, in return for licence-fee funding, imposes certain conditions on them. SRG is primarily funded from licence-fee income, and therefore also has a charter. Whereas the Federal Radio and Television Act (RTVA) applies to all broadcasters, the Charter is a set of rules specifically tailored to SRG. The Federal Council issues it for ten years at a time (see "SRG's legal mandate and Charter" above).
Why is international law important to SRG?
- By concluding international agreements, countries can commit to adopting certain measures in their national laws. In the field of radio and television, the following three agreements can be considered the most important ones concluded by Switzerland:The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) signed by the member states of the Council of Europe on 4 November 1950 (SR 0.101). In this convention, the participating states undertake to protect the human rights as listed in the convention of all people subject to its sovereignty, for example, the freedom to express opinions.
- The European Convention on Transfrontier Television signed on 5 May 1989 by the member states of the Council of Europe and other signatories of the European Cultural Convention. This enshrines the principle that broadcasts must not contain pornography or incite racial hatred, for example. The advertising of tobacco products is also forbidden.
- The Convention dated 11 October 2007 between the Swiss Confederation and the European Community in the field of audiovisual policy establishing the terms and condition for the participation of the Swiss Confederation in the Community programme "Media 2007". In return for participating in the support programme, Switzerland has to adopt certain basic provisions of the EU media structure.
What happens if SRG infringes these provisions?
The Federal Office of Communications (Ofcom) monitors adherence to Swiss and international law. If it establishes that a law has been infringed, it may demand that the shortfall be rectified. In certain cases, it can also impose administrative sanctions. For example, if SRG seriously contravened the provisions of its Charter, Ofcom could fine it up to % of the annual revenue it has generated in Switzerland, averaged over the last three financial years.
Ofcom decrees can be referred to the Federal Administrative Court in St. Gallen or the Swiss Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne. The decision of the Lausanne-based Federal Supreme Court is basically final. If a claim is asserted involving the violation of the basic rights enshrined in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), Switzerland or an affected individual or legal entity can, as a last resort, appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg within six months (chart 1).
Infringement of provisions concerning the content of editorial programmes
Any person may contact an Ombudsman's Office within 20 days of a programme being broadcast or in the event of access being denied to a Swiss broadcaster's programme services. The Ombudsman does not have the power to make decisions or issue instructions. Instead, it attempts to mediate between the parties involved.
Anyone who disagrees with the Ombudsman's report can appeal to the Independent Complaints Authority for Radio and Television (ICA) within 30 days. The ICA gets involved either if the appellant is closely affected by the subject matter of the appeal, or if the appeal is submitted with at least 20 signatures. It may also get involved if it is in the public interest to reach a decision.
Appeals against ICA decisions can be lodged directly with the Federal Supreme Court. Its decision is final. However, if a claim is asserted involving the violation of the basic rights enshrined in the ECHR, Switzerland or an affected individual or legal entity can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg within six months (chart 2).
Why is copyright law particularly important for SRG
Copyright law is particularly important for all media companies. However, the commercial activity of broadcasting corporations (and all other media companies) consists of acquiring the rights to works protected by copyright and subsequently utilizing them in a media context. Copyrights are virtually the raw material for producing programmes. SRG acquires the majority of copyrights from its employees. They relinquish their rights in accordance with the Swiss Code of Obligations, the collective bargaining agreement (GAV) and individual employee contracts. For commercial use that does not involve broadcasting, they are reimbursed with a flat-rate fee (from the creativity fund). SRG is the largest user of existing works in Switzerland; it acquires the relevant rights mainly from collecting societies such as SUISA, SSA, Pro Litteris, SUISSIMAGE and Swissperform. It acquires additional rights directly from their owners, for example film distributors.
Copyright law also covers related rights (e.g. transmission rights and production rights). As a broadcasting company and producer, SRG is the original owner of such rights. This legal position is important, particularly in commercial relationships with retransmission companies (cable network operators).