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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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4 The Origins and Evolution of Media Freedomin Switzerland 65

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65 4 The Origins and Evolution of Media Freedom in Switzerland 4.1 A hard-won quality Freedom of the press, and thus freedom of the media as a whole, is based on liberal ideas. Historically, though, this has always been a hard-won freedom, so that, even today, genuine freedom of the me- dia is rarely encountered. The 18th century, known as the “Age of Enlightenment” (Schindler 1989, p.7ff.), served broadly in the Swiss Confederation of the time as the impulse for a realignment of social relationships. Alongside the separation of powers, civil rights and freedoms became the cen- tral issues of the day (de Capitani 1983, p.97ff.). Amid a still abso- lutist order, however, the establishment of the politico-philosophical ideals of a new world was a slow and tedious process. The utopia of Enlightenment with its stress on philosophy, constitutional law and natural sciences was inspiring, and the enlightened elite in business, politics and education dreamed of a better world; the old religious foundations were eased, the ties to a rule willed by God were loos- ened, new images of mankind were perceived and liberty and pro- gress were discovered as subjects of contemporary history. A new epoch dawned with, first, the American Revolution of 1776, and then the French Revolution of 1789. In 1798, the Helvetic Revolution (Staehelin 1977, p.785ff.) and the French army’s inva- sion of Switzerland signalled the end of the Ancien Régime (Im Hof 1977, p.673ff.). All this happened over two hundred years ago, and for...

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