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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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16 Self-censorship and blind obedience 259


259 16 Self-censorship and blind obedience 16.1 Subtle pressure As a rule, Swiss journalists enjoy a peaceful existence – or at least that would seem to be the case. Seen in an international context399, the risk of a Swiss journalist being attacked physically, psychologi- cally, economically or socially is not worth mentioning. Indeed, Switzerland appears so safe that it is hardly ever or not even men- tioned in the reports of the organisations Reporters sans frontières or Article 19400. But even Swiss journalists do not live under idyllic conditions. Leading members of the profession such as Jürg Frischknecht401 make sure they never rent a ground-floor apartment for fear of reprisals, while readers’ letters containing remarks that are below the belt or frankly insulting are part of a journalist’s daily routine. The latter can be considered the most harmless form of attack. Swiss journalists or anyone who expresses a critical opinion in the media must also reckon with threatening telephone calls or anonymous letters trying to scare them off or with so called e-mail blitzes. In particular, where financial or political interests are con- cerned, there is an increase in threats – and often not only threats – whereupon the lawyers are called in. For many newspapers, the same Frischknecht who avoids renting a ground-floor apartment is a 399 See, for example, Article 19 – International Centre on Censorship, where no such document on Switzerland has been found (, consulted 16 February 2006). 400 See, for example, Annual report 2006 of Reporters sans...

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