The challenges confronting the Swiss press

Article  by  Cyril JOST  •  Published 04.02.2011  •  Updated 14.02.2011
The sharp debate on the quality of the Swiss press is a reflection of the major shifts underway in this sector.

Summary

In August 2010, a study was published by a team of researchers at the University of Zurich, entitled Annals 2010: The Quality of the Swiss Media. The study on a sample of the 46 most important media in the country was carried out by the Centre for Research on the Public Sphere and Society at the University of Zurich, under the leadership of sociology professor Kurt Imhof[+] NoteThe database sample contains 137 media sources from different categories (written press, radio, television, Internet). However, the qualitative assessment of the content relates only to a sub-sample of 46 media sources deemed to be the most important.X [1]. It came up with harsh findings: the quality of journalism is falling because of the rise of free newspapers, online media and sensationalistic news. According to the authors of this report, the media are increasingly turning to national and regional subjects, and are giving excessive importance to sport and celebrities, while neglecting other crucial journalistic tasks such as overseas reporting.
 
The Swiss press groups did not wait long to react. According to Hanspeter Lebrument, president of the Swiss Media Association, “The study by Kurt Imhof is wrong, and its results are incorrect; (…) the Swiss press has become much stronger over the past fifteen years”[+] Note“Tagesschau” on SF1, 13.08.2010 and Philippe CUENI, “Ein Soziales Wunder” [A Social Miracle], Edito, 01.09.2010.X [2]. He pointed out a few figures that show the density of the media throughout the four linguistic regions of Switzerland: 197 newspapers and weeklies for 7.8 million inhabitants[+] NoteSwiss Media, statistics for January 2010. The statistics cover the issues of all newspapers and weeklies with information for a non-specific audience. Free newspapers, official papers, specialist publications and voluntary sector journals are not taken into account.X . By way of comparison, the Rhône-Alpes region in France, with roughly the same population and area, has only two regional dailies and a handful of weeklies.
 
The results of the study have obviously been widely reported in the press, and have on occasion been vehemently contested, especially by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung[+] Note“The argument which states that this profession is in decline is difficult to prove, [because] today’s journalism is more impertinent, more flexible and less submissive than in the past”, Res STREHLE, “Wie gut sind unsere Medien?” [How good is our media?] Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 14.08.2010.X  and the Tages-Anzeiger[+] Note“The concerns of researchers, as far as Switzerland is concerned, are unfounded. Switzerland, with its tiny landmass, has two or three publications and on-line portals of great quality, which have no need to be jealous of their international competitors. Switzerland also has great media diversity, in all its forms: many regional papers, highly popular commuter newspapers, a tabloid press that rarely falls into extremes and radio stations and television channels that stand easily up to international comparison.” Rainer STADLER, “Im Wirbelsturm”, Tages-Anzeiger, 14.08.2010.X .
 
Since the publication of the study, there have been an increasing number of debates in specialist journals and at round tables. The frontline that has been forming between media professionals is not totally new, however. On the one side, there are optimists, who note the changes that have been taking place in the press in recent years and appear to put up with them. These include most press managers, many chief editors, as well as online journalists and those who work for the free media. On the other hand, there are the pessimists who have been sounding the alarm bell for twenty years. They cried over the disappearance of La Suisse in 1994, as well as the Journal de Genève in 1998, and the death of two German-language weeklies Facts and Cash in 2007. They make scathing attacks on the press groups for throwing themselves into a “suicidal” battle in hopes of winning the free newspaper market. They are sorry about the decline of investigative journalism and reporting in favor of costly Internet portals with uncertain profitability.
 
The debates are lively, because they are the symptom of the constantly changing media landscape in Switzerland.

Upheaval #1: mergers and acquisitions

The figure is huge: 197 newspapers for fewer than 8 million inhabitants. In reality, it has been declining for a long time. Just before the First World War, there were 406 newspapers in Switzerland. In 1995, there were still 257. In recent decades, dozens of newspapers, for the most part regional newspapers, have merged or gone out of circulation[+] NoteA few examples: In the Jura, Le Démocrate de Delémont joined forces with Pays de Porrentruy in 1993 to form Le Quotidien Jurassien. In 1996, the Aargauer Tagblatt and the Badener Tagblatt gave rise to the Aargauer Zeitung. During the same year, L’Express of Neuchâtel and the Chaux-de-Fond newspaper L’Impartial increased their ties and then merged three years later. In 2003, La Presse Nord Vaudois and La Presse Riviera Chablais (itself the result of a buyout of Riviera Vevey-Montreux by its neighbour L’Est Vaudois) were bought out by the Edipresse group before disappearing two years later.X . A few rare ventures led to new transregional newspapers coming into being, such as L’Hebdo in 1981 and Le Nouveau Quotidien in 1991 (which became Le Temps in 1998 after absorbing the Journal de Genève). In German-speaking Switzerland, the Sunday newspaper market has developed considerably with the creation of the NZZ am Sonntag in 2002 and Der Sonntag in 2007. In French-speaking Switzerland, the Ringier group wanted to fight the power of Matin Dimanche by launching Dimanche.ch in 1999; the venture only lasted four years[+] NoteThe Sunday newspaper market is a Swiss particularity. Particularly in German-speaking Switzerland, the Sunday newspapers launch important subjects on the political agenda and indulge first and foremost in seeking out scoops. Six newspapers share the German-speaking market, of which four, covering the whole country, play an important role (SonntagsBlick, SonntagsZeitung, NZZ am Sonntag and Der Sonntag), while two regional newspapers (Zentralschweiz am Sonntag, Südostschweiz am Sonntag) play a minor role. In French-speaking Switzerland, Le Matin Dimanche is the only one to take up this niche. In Italian-speaking Switzerland, there are two free Sunday newspapers, Il Caffè della Domenica and Il Mattino.X .
 
Another new factor has changed the situation for the Swiss press market: the arrival of large foreign groups. German press giant Axel Springer, a majority shareholder of the Zurich Handelszeitung since 1999, bought out the Jean Frey group in 2007 (which notably published Bilanz and Der Beobachter). In French-speaking Switzerland, the French press tycoon Philippe Hersant began buying up regional papers, starting with La Côte in Nyon in 2001, followed by L’Express in Neuchâtel and L’Impartial in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 2002, and then several small local papers[+] NotePhilippe Hersant is also the owner, via his company Editions Suisse Holding, of the Courrier Neuchâtelois, Arc-Hebdo (Jura), of the Journal de Cossonay and the Écho Rollois et Aubonnois. He has a minority shareholding in La Région Hebdo Nord-Vaudois, the regional televisions channel for Geneva, Léman Bleu, and the music channel TVM3.X [3]. Since 2010, he has owned the main daily of the canton of Valais, Le Nouvelliste.
 
All these upheavals have created a stir in the profession. In French-speaking Switzerland, two family companies have dominated the press market for several generations: the Zurich-based group Ringier (which includes the magazines L’Illustré, L’Hebdo, TV8, Edelweiss) and the Lausanne-based group Edipresse (which owns the main dailies on sale in French-speaking Switzerland: Le Matin, 24 Heures, and Tribune de Genève). This duopoly, which appears to be gaining strength as regional papers are forced to merge or cease business, was much criticized throughout the 1990s. Philippe Hersant shook up this situation back in 2001. Despite worries about his aggressive acquisition policy, some were sympathetic to the arrival of a foreign player in the small French-speaking area of Switzerland. He represents a sizeable new competitor for Edipresse, which had been used to holding almost total power over the market of the large French-language dailies in Switzerland.
 
In 2009, the concentration changed once more with the buyout of the Swiss business interests of Edipresse[+] NoteThe interests of Edipresse are not restricted to Switzerland: the company owns 180 magazines, newspapers and media sites throughout the world. The group is especially active in Eastern Europe (Poland, Rumania, Russia, Ukraine) and in Asia (China, South-east Asia). X [4] by Zurich-based group Tamedia (which had already bought out the Espace Media group, owner of the daily Berner Zeitung, a year earlier). Once more, opinions within the profession varied greatly. Impressum, the main journalists’ union in the country, said that it was “worried about the diversity of the press and about jobs”. In the same vein, the Swiss union for the mass media feared a “monopoly of opinions”[+] NoteA press release by Impressum on 03.03.2009 and by the Swiss union of the mass media of 03.03.09.X . Other observers considered, on the contrary, that this merger would be an opportunity. According to this view of events, joining forces would represent the best strategy to ensure the long-term survival of a large Swiss press company that would be “able to resist the appetite of the likes of Murdoch and Springer”[+] NoteJacques POGET, “La presse diverse? Pas sans vous!” [Press diversity? Not without you!], 24 Heures, 10.03.2009. See also Jean-Jacques ROTH, “Nouveau monde” [New World], Le Temps, 04.03.2009 and the interview of Jürg WILDBERGER, “Tamedia-Edipresse, un développement intéressant” [Tamedia-Edipress, an interesting development], Swissinfo, 03.03.2009.X [5].
 
For ten years, the move towards greater concentration has been speeding up dramatically. The group NZZ, whose flagship paper is the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, now also controls the St. Galler Tagblatt, the Neue Luzerner Zeitung and the Thurgauer Zeitung[+] NoteThe St. Galler Tagblatt has belonged to the NZZ Group since back in 1991; the Thurgauer Zeitung was bought out in 2010.X . The group AZ Medien, based in Aarau, brings together the Aargauer Zeitung, the Basellandschaftliche Zeitung, and, as of recently, the Solothurner Zeitung. In Western Switzerland, the Südostschweiz group feeds a network of around twenty regional dailies. Tamedia’s closer ties with Edipresse and the buy-out of Espace Media are not its sole feats. In 2000, the group only owned one daily, the Tages-Anzeiger; it now has ten[+] Note20 Minuten, Tages-Anzeiger, Berner Zeitung, Zürcher Landzeitung, 20 Minutes, Le Matin, 24 Heures, Tribune de Genève, to which can be added shares in Le Temps (47%) and Landbote (a 20% share).X [6]! If Tamedia in particular has been able to grow and become a dominant player amongst publishers of Swiss dailies in just a few years, it is because the group gets its strength (and liquidities) from a prowess that is the envy of its competitors: its dominance of the free newspaper market.


* A ranking drawn up by the Swiss media in Medienlandschaft Schweiz 2010. This does not include the activities of German publisher Axel Springer.
 
** The SSR (Swiss radio and television company) has a public service mandate to broadcast radio and television programmes in all linguistic areas of Switzerland. Three quarters of its funding comes from a licence fee and the remaining quarter is generated by commercial activities, mainly television advertising.
 
*** This does not include Edipresse. In 2009, Edipresse did not publish the figures on its business activities in Switzerland because they have been taken over by Tamedia (in several stages up to 2012). In 2008, Edipresse generated income of 435 million Swiss Francs in Switzerland and 303 million abroad.
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Upheaval #2: the war of the free newspapers

Metro, the original free newspaper model in tabloid format, was born in Stockholm in 1995. Four years later, its owners chose Zurich as its first office outside of Sweden. In the meanwhile, a Norwegian group, Schibsted, which also had its sights set on Switzerland’s largest city, brought out its newspaper 20 Minuten in Zurich on 13th December, a few weeks before its Swedish competitor. Metro (renamed Metropol for legal reasons) threw in the towel two years later for lack of profits. The large Swiss press groups laid little store by the free newspaper market, which they looked upon disdainfully.
 
One of them, Tamedia, changed its position in 2003, acquiring a share in the capital of 20 Minuten (it became a majority shareholder two years later). This free Zurich newspaper gradually spread its distribution network to all large German-speaking towns and cities and all important lines of public transport. The question of whether there would be a French-speaking version remained.
 
To get the better of the Zurich based giant that was getting ready to sweep onto its territory, in November 2005 Edipresse launched Le Matin Bleu, a free newspaper that took its name from non-free daily, Le Matin, of the same group. Four months later, 20 Minutes came to French-speaking Switzerland. For three and a half years, these two free newspapers existed side by side, enjoying the highest circulation figures in French-speaking Switzerland, way ahead of the newspapers for sale. Each invested hugely to show the other that it was there to stay. In the end it was Tamedia that won the day. Edipresse never admitted that the war (that it lost) for the free newspaper market hastened its decision to sell its Swiss business interests to Tamedia; yet, it would be naive to separate the two events. In fact, the merger of the two press groups, announced in March 2009, signed the death sentence of Matin Bleu. The newspaper ceased circulation six months later.
 
The free newspaper war has left traces, in the first place for publishers of newspapers on sale. Edipresse not only lost its free newspaper – circulation figures for its other papers has fallen considerably as well. Between 2005 and 2010, La Tribune de Genève, 24 Heures and Le Matin lost a quarter of their readership[+] NoteREMP statistics (Research and advertising media studies) : between 2005 and 2010 (figures as of 01.01.10), the Tribune de Genève went from a circulation of 71,029 to 54,068, 24 Heures went from 103,262 to 78,964 copies sold, and Le Matin went from 76,410 to 57,894.X . Unions have rebelled against savings measures in editorial offices. The press groups are accused of digging their own grave by launching the free newspapers that have eaten away at the newspapers they sell[+] NoteSee, in particular, the press release by Impressum of 21.03.2009. The accusation of “cannibalisation” is wide-spread in the profession; see, by way of example, the tribute to Roger de Diesbach by Jean-Luc WENGER, “Journalistes orphelins” [Orphan Journalists], L’Express, 23.09.2009.X .
 
Criticism rained down on the new journalistic culture that has been introduced (or strengthened) by the arrival of free media. From the moment that Matin Bleu came out in 2005, French-speaking journalists from all backgrounds formed a group called “News in Danger”. “The written press is gradually turning away from its role to provide information and a critical approach to events, and increasingly heading towards providing entertainment,” one can read in the group’s founding manifesto. They condemn “non-verified sources, badly proofed texts and factual errors that bring down the image of the press” and it has been observed that “advertisers attend editorial meetings, and journalists are forced into signing dishonest articles; and worse still, some are not even aware of such compromises”[+].. NotePresse romande, l’information en danger[French-speaking press in Switzerland, news in danger], Info en Danger, 10.10.2005.X [7].

At the end of 2007, Roger de Diesbach, an emblematic figure of investigative journalism in French-speaking Switzerland, published a book entitled Presse futile, presse inutile [Futile press, useless press]. In this book, the former editor in chief of La Liberté accused press groups of turning their newspapers into “vulgar money machines, forgetting their main reason for existing: information” and reminded readers that publishing a free newspaper makes it totally dependent on one source of income: advertising[+] Note“Nombre d’éditeurs transforment leurs journaux en feuilles de caniveau, en créant à tour de bras des journaux qui n’ont de gratuit que le nom puisqu’ils sont payés par leurs annonceurs dont ils lèchent les bottes, en multipliant les concessions jusqu’à censurer toute critique” [“Many editors turn their newspapers into the gutter press, rapidly creating newspapers that are only free in name, because they are financed by advertisers whose boots they lick, providing an increasing number of concessions until all criticism is censored”] Roger DE DIESBACH, Presse futile, presse inutile [Futile Press, Useless Press], Éditions Slatkine, 2007, p. 16.X [8].

In 2010, Tamedia appeared to be the only Swiss press group to come out a winner in the free newspaper war. Its great German-speaking competitor, Ringier, started up the free evening newspaper Heute in the spring of 2006, replaced in 2008 by Blick am Abend. It also tried its chances in September 2006 with Cash Daily, a business daily, but halted the experiment in 2009, bringing Cash down to a mere Internet portal. In 2007, a group of independent investors launched an extremely ambitious free newspaper project, .ch. To respond to this, Tamedia formed an alliance with two other press groups[+] NoteThe Espace Media group (that Tamedia bought out in 2008) and the Basler Zeitung.X  and launched a competing paper, News. In May 2009, .ch went bankrupt after losing more than 50 million Swiss francs. News, whose sole objective was to prevent competitors entering the market, ceased to be published shortly afterwards.
 
During this time, 20 Minuten was for many years one of the most profitable free newspapers in the world, generating for its owner an exceptional net profit ratio of 30 % per year[+] NoteAccording to the media specialist and former member of the board of Tamedia, Kurt ZIMMERMANN, “War’s das?” [Was that it?], NZZ Folio, 05.10.2009.X . In late 2010, three free dailies were still in existence in Switzerland: 20 Minuten, 20 Minutes and Blick am Abend.
 
 
Circulation figures for dailies in Switzerland


* Provisional figures for 2010, on 01.10.2010   
                                 
** This paper includes several sub-issues, including the Aargauer Zeitung (114,812 issues) and the Solothurner Zeitung (35,997 issues).    
                                          
*** The newspaper includes several sub-issues, including the Zürichsee-Zeitung (39,994 issues), Zürcher Oberländer (34,784 issues) and the Zürcher Unterländer (20,477 issues).              
                                     
Source: REMP (Research and advertising media studies)/MACH Basic
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Upheaval #3: Internet

In 1995, Ringier was the first press group in French-speaking Switzerland to venture onto the Internet with its platform Webdo. It was followed shortly after by Edipresse, which launched its website Edicom in February 1996. A period of experimention ensued: from overhaul to restructuration, press group projects changed name and form on several occasions during these initial exploratory years. The online unit of Edipresse went as far as taking on sixty people after reaching its peak, without ever managing to successfully market its content. The project was finally ditched in 2001; the platform of its French-speaking competitor, Webdo, did not manage to take off.
 
Historic errors on the Internet have cost Swiss press groups dearly, both financially and in terms of trust. The money lost in these on-line misadventures was cruelly lacking when the crisis of 2001 hit the media world hard. The drop in advertising revenue that followed marked the start a long descent into hell. The economic crisis was compounded by significant structural changes: advertisers were increasingly eyeing online platforms such as search engines or small ads sites. In 2002, advertising revenue in the Swiss press fell by 12% compared with the previous year. The media most affected were the subscriber dailies, and popular newspapers such as Blick in German-speaking Switzerland and Le Matin in French-speaking Switzerland. The income of the large press groups – Tamedia, for example – dropped from 818 million Francs in 2000 to 574 million in 2003[+] NoteREMP statistics (Research and advertising media studies), Changes in advertising income, and Media Trend Journal, 1-2010.X .
 
When the economy picked up in 2004, a consolidation phase started. Rather than launch new in-house platforms, the press groups started to buy into the good ideas thought up by others. Tamedia and Edipresse bought the property platform Homegate. The Ringier group bought want ads site Scout24 and online directory Gate24. Edipresse took a share in the capital of online publisher Virtual Network, known for its general public portals such as Romandie.com, Humour.com and Jeux.com.
 
With the advent of the 2008-2009 economic crisis, the press once more suffered a violent shock. Advertising revenue in Switzerland fell by 20%[+] NoteSwiss Advertising Statistics Foundation (FSSP), 2009 figures compared with the previous year, “press” category.X . All the press groups started economy drives. Tamedia wiped out fifty jobs at the Tages-Anzeiger and merged part of the editorial department with that of Bund. Ringier put in place a concept taken from English-speaking countries: the newsroom, a central place to deliver several publications at the same time (Blick, Blick am Abend, SonntagsBlick, Blick.ch) from a single editorial office.
 
While traditional editorial offices were shrinking away, the teams in charge of online content were boosted, and the issue of the press moving into the digital era became the priority for large groups. In 2010, the first multimedia tablets came out for the general public, bringing new hope for the whole sector. Many Swiss newspapers and magazines are now testing various forms of selling digital subscriptions, but a dominant model has yet to emerge[+] NoteApart from applications for the iPad that many newspapers and magazines have launched in recent months, there is also a project by large Swiss press groups, working with the book publisher Orell Füssli and the telephone operator Swisscom, to set up a pay platform for newspapers and books which may also be accompanied by an electronic tablet.X .
 

 Source: Swiss Advertising Statistics Foundation (FSSP).
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How can quality be defined?

The study by the University of Zurich identified the current trends in journalism in Switzerland as follows: “It is above all subscription newspapers, Sunday newspapers, public radio programmes and, to a lesser degree, public television that provide in-depth reports so that the news can be seen in context. This approach assumes that reports have a large proportion of hard news that is less geared towards people, emotions and private affairs. New sites, the tabloid press, free newspapers and broadcasts by the new private channels, on the other hand, provide journalism any old way – unspecialised, and heavily geared towards entertainment. The foremost task of journalism – which means placing events in their proper context based on in-depth investigation – is no longer current in these media outlets[+] Note2010 annals: the quality of Swiss media sources, main remarks, pp. 8-9.X [9].”

“Quality” is defined by the authors of the study as “[the ability to] make a contribution to the issues, showing the importance for society”, such as “important and complex legal processes”. The regional newspapers analysed by this yardstick would appear to be of lesser quality that the supra-regional newspapers, because they “fail in their reports to deal with national and international politics as well as the economy and culture. Instead, they adopt a regional strategy (…)”. The quality of the media on economic issues is also called into question by the authors of the study because it “did not fulfil its seismographic role to warn people in time of the financial market crisis . (…) The crisis was not recognised by the media until very late on, that is to say the second half of 2007[+] NoteIbid., pp. 10 and 21.X [10].”
 
This diagnosis did not fail to cause a stir. Some said they considered the Kurt Imhof report to be “nonsense”[+] NoteHansi Voigt, editor in chief of 20 Minuten, cited in Edito, 01.09.2010.X  and “dammed stupidity”. Many commentators wondered about the pertinence of a study that is presented as being scientific, while the issues that it deals with – the quality of the media – is eminently subjective[+] NoteSee for example the report of a debate organised in Zurich in September 2010 and the positions taken by Pietro Supino (president of Tamedia), Matthias Hagemann (former editor of the Basler Zeitung and owner of Radio Basilisk) and Roger Schawinski (owner of Radio-1) in Isabelle IMHOF, “Kritik unerwünscht” [Unwelcome Criticism], Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 23.09.2010.X [11]. Others, however, are happy with the conclusions of this Zurich professor and see the detractors of the report as a corporation unable to ask itself questions[+] NoteKurt ZIMMERMANN, “Der Leser – das bekannte Wesen” [The Reader - the known being], Die Weltwoche, 19.08.2010.X [12].
 
Whatever the case may be, a new debate is taking form. “There is an increasing number of discussions on the issues, whether it be within associations or on blogs,” observers Kurt Imhof. “It is a very good thing that the debate has become public, because the media system is incapable of healing itself. On the one hand, you have a group like Tamedia that controls 79% of the market[+] NoteIn terms of penetration.X  in French-speaking Switzerland and 42% in German-speaking Switzerland, and which is aiming for a level of profitability of its capital in the region of 15 to 20 % per year, which is only possible through free newspapers. On the other hand, journalists themselves are too caught up in the system to put forward critical arguments on what quality journalism should be.”
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Governmental involvement…

The question of the role of the state remains, which, strangely enough, was not very much raised in the debates on the quality of the press in Switzerland; and yet, the state is present in this sector – massively present even – via public radio and television, for which the state provides around 75 % of the budget. With an annual budget of 1.6 billion francs, the SSR (Société suisse de radiodiffusion et télévision) spends more money than any other press group in the country. Comprising 18 radio stations and 8 television channels, it has been granted a public service mission which includes a notion that is specific to Switzerland: the promotion of mutual understanding between the different linguistic regions.
 
This subsidy system that is granted exclusively to public television and radio is hardly questioned by the population and the political sphere. The most we see today is a ceiling on the public funds made available to the SSR, following several successive increases of licencing fees, which have been the subject of strong complaints in recent years.
 
For their part, private groups are not seeking to enjoy a share of the cake granted to the SSR[+] NoteThe major dispute between the private groups and the SSR is related to advertising on the Internet. While seeking additional sources of revenue, the SSR would like to be able to advertise on-line space. Private publishers are firmly opposed to any changes to the law in this direction. Moreover, private publishers are denouncing the increasing share of the supply taken up by the SSR qui which exceeds, in their view, its public service mandate.X [13]. “We do not want any direct financial aid from the state because it would come with conditions as it does in France where the state supports this sector with almost one billion Euros,” states Valérie Boagno, CEO of the daily Le Temps and president of the association of French-speaking press groups, Presse Suisse. On the other hand, the written press is fighting to improve the “framework conditions” so that it would be able to conduct its business freely. This entails notably indirect aid by, for instance, keeping a low level of VAT or subsidising transport costs for newspapers via the Swiss post office[+] NoteThe written press is subject to a VAT rate of 2.4 % (2.5 % in 2011); on the other hand, subscriptions via the Internet are subject to the normal rate of 7.6 % (8 % in 2011). Up until 2007, the Swiss post office received 80 million Swiss Francs per year to subsidise press transport costs; since then, it has only received 30 million per year (20 million for newspapers and 10 million for voluntary sector publications).X . “We also undertake a public service mission for the community,” asserts Valérie Boagno. “It cannot be denied that the written press covers a good part of national, regional and local politics in Switzerland. We play a crucial role in forming free opinions, a sine qua non condition for any democratic state[+] NoteValérie Boagno raises here an issue that she takes on in greater depth in an interview given to Victoria MARCHAND, Nous ne demandons pas d’argent à Berne[We are not asking for money from Bern], Cominmag, September 2009.X [14].”
 
This assertion raises a range of new questions. What exactly does “public service” mean with regard to the dissemination of information? Why should this mission be entrusted solely to the audiovisual media? In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy launched  the written press convention in 2008 with precisely this challenge in mind. Various aid measures were decided upon, amounting to 200 million euros over three years. In addition to measures such as help for postal transport or assistance with home delivery, the French government put financial assistance in place for the press on the Internet. Websites, such as Mediapart and Rue89, for example, were recipients of this aid. Opening up a breach, this last measure stirred up a vast debate in France, between those who believe that the state should play a role in maintaining the quality of the press (regardless of the format) and those who fear for the independence of a media dependent on “public subsidy”.
 
In Switzerland, such a debate has not yet been raised. Despite the successive crises that the written press has been through over the decades and the arrival of free newspapers and the Internet, the notion of public service is still exclusively associated with radio and television. It would be interesting if these issues were dealt with in a chapter of the one of upcoming editions of the Annals to be published by Professor Kurt Imhof and his team.
 
Translated from the French by Peter Moss
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Photo credit: Ol.v!er [H2vPk]/Flickr

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  • 1. The database sample contains 137 media sources from different categories (written press, radio, television, Internet). However, the qualitative assessment of the content relates only to a sub-sample of 46 media sources deemed to be the most important.
  • 2. “Tagesschau” on SF1, 13.08.2010 and Philippe CUENI, “Ein Soziales Wunder” [A Social Miracle], Edito, 01.09.2010.
  • 3. Philippe Hersant is also the owner, via his company Editions Suisse Holding, of the Courrier Neuchâtelois, Arc-Hebdo (Jura), of the Journal de Cossonay and the Écho Rollois et Aubonnois. He has a minority shareholding in La Région Hebdo Nord-Vaudois, the regional televisions channel for Geneva, Léman Bleu, and the music channel TVM3.
  • 4. The interests of Edipresse are not restricted to Switzerland: the company owns 180 magazines, newspapers and media sites throughout the world. The group is especially active in Eastern Europe (Poland, Rumania, Russia, Ukraine) and in Asia (China, South-east Asia).
  • 5. Jacques POGET, “La presse diverse? Pas sans vous!” [Press diversity? Not without you!], 24 Heures, 10.03.2009. See also Jean-Jacques ROTH, “Nouveau monde” [New World], Le Temps, 04.03.2009 and the interview of Jürg WILDBERGER, “Tamedia-Edipresse, un développement intéressant” [Tamedia-Edipress, an interesting development], Swissinfo, 03.03.2009.
  • 6. 20 Minuten, Tages-Anzeiger, Berner Zeitung, Zürcher Landzeitung, 20 Minutes, Le Matin, 24 Heures, Tribune de Genève, to which can be added shares in Le Temps (47%) and Landbote (a 20% share).
  • 7. Presse romande, l’information en danger[French-speaking press in Switzerland, news in danger], Info en Danger, 10.10.2005.
  • 8. “Nombre d’éditeurs transforment leurs journaux en feuilles de caniveau, en créant à tour de bras des journaux qui n’ont de gratuit que le nom puisqu’ils sont payés par leurs annonceurs dont ils lèchent les bottes, en multipliant les concessions jusqu’à censurer toute critique” [“Many editors turn their newspapers into the gutter press, rapidly creating newspapers that are only free in name, because they are financed by advertisers whose boots they lick, providing an increasing number of concessions until all criticism is censored”] Roger DE DIESBACH, Presse futile, presse inutile [Futile Press, Useless Press], Éditions Slatkine, 2007, p. 16.
  • 9. 2010 annals: the quality of Swiss media sources, main remarks, pp. 8-9.
  • 10. Ibid., pp. 10 and 21.
  • 11. See for example the report of a debate organised in Zurich in September 2010 and the positions taken by Pietro Supino (president of Tamedia), Matthias Hagemann (former editor of the Basler Zeitung and owner of Radio Basilisk) and Roger Schawinski (owner of Radio-1) in Isabelle IMHOF, “Kritik unerwünscht” [Unwelcome Criticism], Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 23.09.2010.
  • 12. Kurt ZIMMERMANN, “Der Leser – das bekannte Wesen” [The Reader - the known being], Die Weltwoche, 19.08.2010.
  • 13. The major dispute between the private groups and the SSR is related to advertising on the Internet. While seeking additional sources of revenue, the SSR would like to be able to advertise on-line space. Private publishers are firmly opposed to any changes to the law in this direction. Moreover, private publishers are denouncing the increasing share of the supply taken up by the SSR qui which exceeds, in their view, its public service mandate.
  • 14. Valérie Boagno raises here an issue that she takes on in greater depth in an interview given to Victoria MARCHAND, Nous ne demandons pas d’argent à Berne[We are not asking for money from Bern], Cominmag, September 2009.
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