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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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7 National Standards 109

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109 7 National Standards 7.1 The Swiss Federal Constitution From 1848 onwards the Swiss Federal Constitution – as liberal heir to the 50-year constitutional struggles – upheld the freedom of the press. The totally revised Federal Constitution of 1999 also guaran- tees this basic right, and now also extends it to uphold the right to freedom of opinion and freedom of information124. Article 16 states that: 1. Freedom of opinion and information is guaranteed. 2. All persons have the right to form, express and disseminate their opinions freely. 3. All persons have the right to receive information freely, to gather it from generally accessible sources, and to disseminate it. All this sound very positive, but restrictions are implied too, particu- larly in Paragraph 3, which means that not all sources of informa- tion should be available to media workers, but only those that are generally accessible. In the case of information that is not considered “generally accessible” the authorities can decide whether or not this material is to be made available to media workers. This paragraph reflects the problem that suspicion is the order of the day when deal- ing with the media and their use of sensitive data. However, the paragraph is also based on an understanding that the state can and should control the media. The Federal Constitution was drawn up by parliament and – as will be seen later – the Swiss parliament is notoriously hostile to the media, or is at least afraid of it. Need this be so? The...

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