No to Broadcasting Licence Fees!
In Switzerland, a battle is raging about information and the media. Swiss national-conservative and neo-liberal circles have launched a campaign to abolish public broadcasting licence fees. On 6 March, the Swiss population will go to vote in a referendum. The TV and radio licence fees – popularly known as the “Billag” – are going to cost 365 Swiss francs to guarantee continuity of TV and radio provision in the four Swiss national language areas. The provision of these services is expensive, but political and cultural information is a priority for public discourse and democracy.
The aim of the campaign is clear: public service should be dismantled and privatized. In the eyes of the campaigners, the media are infiltrated anyway by a left-wing agenda. So, reactionary right-wing activists long to establish an information service and democracy as they think best. Just look at the US to see how that works. In bowing to the pressure of arguments, the campaign supporters appear flexible, yet this changes nothing about the fact that accepting the proposal for “no ‘Billag’ licence fees” could revolutionize the entire information system. Currently, the opinion polls suggest that this is unlikely, but it’s still important to offer some opposition.
That’s even more important because now a second conflict looms. The national press agency (the Swiss Telegraphic Agency, SDA) is also supposed to be made more efficient or ‘liberalized’. The new director (and former accountant) is starting by setting a good example: his salary is rumoured to be 450,000 Swiss francs. The press agency circulates news in four languages – it’s audited and politically neutral. The sad thing about this is that the SDA is owned by the media, but mainly big organizations like Tages-Anzeiger or NZZ have secured such generous (discounted) rates that it is running at a loss. It’s almost tragic to see how the print media is cutting back the branch that it sits on. Anyway, it doesn’t seem to care about news and information. The profits from the newspapers were used a long time ago to found free newspapers and advertising platforms that conventional newspapers are sacrificed for, if necessary. Who wants to take them seriously anymore?
Both developments are a genuine threat for democratic discourse and particularly for culture. If public broadcasting and the press agency want to earn profits, there is no longer any space for broad-based cultural reporting in the official media. At least, the SDA has already taken the precautionary step of abolishing the cultural editorial office.
While this is tragic, it’s based on clear logic: ‘death to the hovels, peace to the palaces’!
History tells us what to expect as the aftermath.
By Beat Mazenauer