What happens on the Swiss media scene concerns us all.
A varied media scene is an important pillar of democracy. The Swiss media scene is currently undergoing radical change.
A diverse, independent range of media services is absolutely essential for democracy to function (see also Mandate and legal position), so that people can form their own opinions on political, economic and social developments. The key ethos of public service in the media plays an important role in forming a lively and varied range of opinions.
But this vital diversity of media offerings does not just appear and continue to exist of its own accord. Instead, the state has to ensure media diversity is guaranteed. Today, the Internet with its many sources of free information that are not tied to any linguistic or national borders is putting many non-free newspapers under pressure. The number of Swiss newspaper titles has fallen correspondingly over recent years. There are fewer and fewer small publishers. Large publishing companies are becoming larger and acquiring increasing numbers of newspapers and also private radio and TV stations.
In Switzerland, private radio and TV broadcasters are also supported with licence fee revenue provided they have a charter and, more or less in return, meet certain requirements laid down by the Federal Council. Approximately four percent of licence fee revenue, currently amounting to 54 million francs or so, goes to 22 private radio stations and 13 private television stations (as of 2015).
The growing importance of the Internet is manifesting itself not least in the fact that people are increasingly obtaining information from the Internet rather than from print media or radio and television. And it is precisely on the Internet that SRG's journalistic freedom is being constrained. For example, SRG has to adhere to strict guidelines regarding the length of its online articles. The reason for this is that newspapers consist predominantly of written articles. And the newspapers have also realized that the public are now using the Internet. So they are trying to use new business models to position themselves on the Internet. But if SRG, which is funded by licence fees, were to start providing high-quality content on the Internet free of charge, newspapers would feel disadvantaged.
There are some countries in which newspapers too receive money from the state, although they have to adhere to certain guidelines in return. In Switzerland, newspapers are indirectly supported by the government – the Confederation uses subsidies to reduce postal delivery charges for newspapers and magazines. There are no direct press subsidies in Switzerland. Swiss newspapers are almost exclusively funded from the commercial income generated by their publishing companies, for example via advertising.
And what are the future prospects for the Swiss media scene? It's not just SRG and other media companies that are mulling this question over, but also politicians. This also raises the question of what SRG's public service mandate will look like in the future, and to what extent social trends will be reflected in the mandate of a future SRG.