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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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6 International Obligations and the Freedomof the Media in Switzerland 98


98 6 International Obligations and the Freedom of the Media in Switzerland 6.1 Dissent and conformity The organisation “Reporters sans frontiers” draws up an index of countries that enjoy the greatest freedom of the press. In 2005, Swit- zerland ranked first on this list102, yet nowadays an increasing num- ber of Swiss journalists are being taken to court and convicted. The decisions of the Swiss courts are undoubtedly in accordance with national law, but does this law really concur with international standards? Looking at some of the recent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights against Switzerland, the answer would appear to be “not always”. Parts of the Swiss Penal Code are contrary to interna- tional understanding of freedom of opinion and expression. Even when national laws follow international standards, they are not always perceived as an increase in people’s freedom. On the con- trary, they may be considered to limit freedom of expression. It should, however, be said that Swiss law has reacted very rapidly to the adoption of international standards. In 1997 the Swiss Federal Supreme Court reviewed its established decisions following the 1996 verdict of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in favour of the English journalist William Goodwin. Goodwin had planned to report on the financial problems of a certain company, but the judicial authorities ordered precautionary measures to prevent him from doing so. When he refused to reveal his sources of information the British judicial authorities threatened him with criminal proceed- ings. Goodwin...

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