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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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14 The Power of Advertising 228

Extract

228 14 The Power of Advertising 14.1 The media as commercial enterprises Media, unless financed by licence fees, are commercial entities which have to sustain their position in the market. Their main source of revenue is advertising; direct income from subscriptions or news- agent sales has little or no significance. Swiss subscriber newspapers, for example, gain on average approximately 70 to 80 percent of their revenue from advertising and just 20 to 30 percent from sales. Free newspapers are financed entirely by the advertising industry, as are most private local radio or television stations. Only a limited number of radio and television stations receive modest amounts from licence fee splitting in addition to their advertising revenue. At present, 25 private radio stations und 17 television stations share CHF 44 million (four per cent) out of the CHF 1.1 billion paid in licence fees to the national broadcasting service SRG SSR355. With this system of licence fee splitting, which is laid down in Article 40 of the Law on Radio and Television (LRTV), the government aims to support small private broadcasting stations in sparsely populated and financially weak regions and thus ensure diversity of the me- dia356. In 2004, advertising sales in the Swiss media reached a total of 5.223 billion francs, representing an increase of 200 million francs, or 3.9 per cent over the prior year. In Switzerland, current per capita advertising expenditure in the media amounts to almost 700 francs. The costs of advertising in the daily, Sunday and...

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