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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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5 Media and Democracy Today 79

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79 5 Media and Democracy Today 5.1 No state within a state In Western democracies the media are frequently referred to as a fourth estate (Peduzzi 2004, p.60), thus putting them on the same level as a country’s legislative, executive and judicial bodies. Yet, from the point of view of constitutional law, this expression is a paradox, because the media hold no official function. For this rea- son, neither the Swiss constitution nor the country’s media legisla- tion use the expression “fourth estate” to define the function of the media. Furthermore, media experts such as Fred S. Siebert in Four Theories of the Press (1963), James Curran in Power without Re- sponsibility (1991) and Julian Petley in Fourth Estate or Anti- Journalism (2004) do not believe that modern media operate accord- ing to the liberal principles of the Enlightenment, mainly because of the way in which they have developed. One way or another, the function of the media is perceived as that of a public watchdog that monitors state institutions, criticising them as and when necessary (Curran and Gurevitch 1991). This is also the image used by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)76. Educational institu- tions sometimes use the expressions “public service” or “public duty of the media” as synonyms (Kley 2000, p.192). The idea that the media act as a watchdog is based on a concept of media that are entirely free of state influences and can operate in the free market without any official obligations or...

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