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The Invisible Scissors

Media Freedom and Censorship in Switzerland

Marc Höchli

A watchdog, a genuine fourth estate working in the service of a free and liberal democracy, diverse and discursive: this is what we expect of the media. This is how most of the media present themselves: altruistic, serving the interests of res publica and public opinion and promoting democratic discourse. And this is how most Swiss people see their media.
Yet, does the shining image correspond to reality? Or are the much-praised journalistic Elysium of Switzerland and the diversity and quality of the Swiss media tarnished? And to what extent is freedom of the media guaranteed?
This research into the mass media of Switzerland highlights the current threats to the freedom of the media and identifies the scissors of censorship. It scrutinizes the power of advertising, the battle for market share, the infiltration of PR agencies into editorial offices, the quality of journalistic training, self-censorship and infotainment as the supreme credo. The findings show that freedom of the media in Switzerland is severely jeopardised.

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1 Preface 11

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11 1 Preface 1.1 The catalyst for this research At first glance, the very idea of analysing the freedom of the media and of researching censorship in Switzerland seems absurd. After all, the Federal Constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of the media, and censorship is forbidden. Furthermore, this small, federal, multi- lingual and multicultural landlocked country in the middle of Europe is universally praised as a model of democracy. Indeed, in a country whose people have a far greater say in government than anywhere else, one could easily assume that the freedom of the me- dia is a foregone conclusion. Yet, in reality, this shining image is more than a little tarnished. The “Prototype for Europe” – as the former Federal President of Ger- many Richard von Weizsäcker once described Switzerland – experi- ences the same forms and mechanisms of censorship as any other democratic country. Of course, in Switzerland “undesirable” jour- nalists are not threatened with murder, but critically discerning au- thors do risk becoming social outcasts. Switzerland prohibits gov- ernmental pre-censorship, but the advertising industry has on occasion attempted to shape the content of the media by means of post-publication censorship in the form of boycotts. Switzerland is a constitutional state, yet the paragraphs of its penal and civil codes hang over media workers like the sword of Damocles. Then there are structural problems such as the lack of proper journalistic educa- tion. However one looks at it, the freedom of the media in Switzer- land is officially, materially and...

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