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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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3 The Meanings of Censorship 27

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27 3 The Meanings of Censorship 3.1 A weapon of power In its usual definition, censorship is understood as a vertical and unilateral process: control from the top downwards with clear au- thority to issue directives, even, at times, using force to suppress free expression. The conventional concept of censorship is the surveil- lance by a higher (spiritual or secular) authority of public speeches, illustrations and printed matter, plays and films, radio and television programmes, and all other media. Such censorship focuses on the systematic control of the content of communications (usually on political, economic, social or religious subjects) with the aim of safe- guarding the interests of the powers that be. In authoritarian, despotic or oligarchic forms of government censor- ship is thus, by definition, an inherent part of the system. There is no lack of examples: one of the most pronounced – which some people still remember – was the draconian censorship imposed by the Third Reich (1933-1945). During a period when most of Europe was en- slaved to National Socialism, freedom of opinion and expression, and of the media, were practically non-existent. Also in Switzer- land14 the media experienced some strict state regulations on report- ing, and, thus were able to fulfil their role as a cornerstone of de- mocracy only to some extent. Present-day examples include Russia, as a territorially shrunken successor state to the former USSR, China and North Korea (Bütler 2006).15 However, censorship is found not only in authoritarian societies, and is not solely...

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