Let ’em eat cake: the Swiss reject taxpayer money for media

Swiss voters must have been looking at what has been happening in Canadian media lately, and they didn’t like it.

Thus, they rejected a plan to inject more than 150 million Swiss francs (about $163 million in American currency or more than $206 million Canadian) into broadcast and print media every year, including support for early-morning newspaper delivery and online media to the tune of 70 million francs (nearly $76 million U.S. or more than $96 million Canadian) a year.

All that in a country of 8.5 million, to put the amounts into a proper context.

Strangely, North American media, including the U.S. Editor & Publisher that quoted (verbatim) this Associated Press story on top of its regular daily newsletter, said the idea was a Swiss government plan.

Nonsense, of course, aimed at thoroughly misleading their public. The fact remains that the Swiss federal government in Berne simply had to put the question to the electorate as proponents of the idea had gathered a sufficient number of signatures to trigger such a vote.

Whether the Associated Press reporter knew that he was lying or whether he just wasn’t informed enough matters not. It’s the result that matters. And the result just happened to be an outright lie.

That Editor & Publisher used the AP story unquestioningly, not even pretending that it bothered to check it out shows how deep the would-be North American media beacon has sunk.

What the Swiss said?

While the plan did make it through Switzerland’s parliament last June, it was only because its proponents gathered a sufficient number of signatures to send it to public vote. That’s because Switzerland’s form of democracy gives voters a direct say in policymaking.

So far as the majority of Swiss voters were concerned, not only would the cash injection be an unfair waste of public money, it would also impact journalistic independence and integrity. The more they get in state (read: taxpayer) handouts, the more likely will the media be to dance to government’s tune.

Besides, big media chains and their owners would benefit financially, while free newspapers, of which the Swiss have many, would lose out.

Opponents of the measure put it bluntly: “A media subsidized by the state is a media under control. As the adage goes: ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.’ ”

Pointing out that big print-media groups together took in more than 300 million Swiss francs (more than $324 million U.S. or almost $413 million Canadian) in 2020 profits, despite the market tensions caused by Covid-19, they asked a simple question: what losses?

Those who supported the cash injection had been claiming that journalism is, in fact, a form of public service. That, they said, was true in local areas in particular: these regions do not get much service from big media groups.

After all, it would be the same as it is with many public radio and TV broadcasters, both in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe (and on other continents, too).

A number of European countries support newspapers through postal fee discounts, tax breaks and other measures.

There even are countries that dole money to media big and small outright, and Canada happens to be a typical example of media singing the government’s song even if it is out of tune with reality.

“Media groups are fighting to survive,” the Swiss Green party, a strong supporter of the measure, claimed. “Ad revenues for print press haven’t stopped declining or are getting swallowed up by giants like Facebook and Google, and subscriptions aren’t enough,” it had been arguing before the vote.

According to the Swiss Green Party, more than 70 papers have disappeared since 2003, while advertising revenue in all print publications in Switzerland plunged 42 per cent between 2016 and 2020.

What they forgot to mention was that most of those print publications simply switched into electronic (online) form, and that they somehow forgot to transfer the missing print publication revenue to their successors’ books.

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