Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
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Article 17 of the Swiss constitution guarantees freedom of the press, while Article 93 explicitly outlines the independence of broadcast media. The penal code prohibits public incitement to racial hatred or discrimination, spreading racist ideology, and denying crimes against humanity. The law does not specifically prohibit anti-Semitic speech or Holocaust denial, but there have been convictions for such expression in the recent past. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a Swiss law against genocide denial violates freedom of expression principles. The government announced an appeal to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR in March 2014, and the case remained pending at year’s end.
It is a crime to publish information based on leaked “secret official discussions,” particularly regarding banking information. Public awareness of a 2006 transparency law remains low, and the law is rarely used.
Partisan interests occasionally influence media coverage, especially in the print sector. In November 2014, rumors surfaced that Christoph Blocher, leader of the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), had plans to invest in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), a leading daily newspaper. Blocher already owns shares in the daily Basler Zeitung and has been accused of influencing the newspaper’s content. Blocher initially denied reports of his involvement with NZZ. However, speculation intensified when the board of NZZ Mediengruppe—the newspaper’s owner—indicated intent to replace NZZ chief editor Markus Spillmann with Markus Somm, a known Blocher ally and co-owner and editor of Basler Zeitung. Spillmann had announced in September that he would resign at the end of 2014. A number of NZZ journalists and editors expressed concern with reports of dialogue between Somm and the board, with some claiming that the talks were motivated by intent to influence the newspaper’s coverage of political issues. The board ultimately decided against selecting Somm for the position, but no appointment was announced before the conclusion of the year.
Journalists are free from interference while covering the news, and retaliatory violence is also rare. No physical attacks against the media were reported in 2014. In 2013, Swiss authorities searched an apartment and a hotel room belonging to journalist Ludovic Rocchi in connection with a libel investigation, seizing several documents. In May 2014, the Federal Court ruled that the searches had been illegal and ordered the confiscated documents to be returned to Rocchi.
Large publishing houses control most of the print sector, and the concentration of ownership has forced many stand-alone newspapers to merge or cease operations. In a report published in December 2014, the Swiss Government expressed concern about the growing concentration of media ownership and the lack of independent print media in many of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. The report found the financial situation of a significant number of print outlets to be unsustainable and suggested subsidies for media outlets as a way of bolstering independence; no such measures had been implemented by year’s end. The broadcast sector is dominated by the public-service Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR), which is obliged to carry content in each of Switzerland’s four official languages—French, German, Italian, and Romansh. SRG SSR operates three German, two French (also broadcasting in Romansch), and two Italian television channels in addition to 17 radio stations. There are also more than a dozen private regional television channels. Radio has maintained its popularity; because of the country’s linguistic divisions, most private stations are local or regional. Swiss television viewers also have extensive access to cable services and foreign channels. The internet is generally unrestricted and was accessed by 87 percent of the population in 2014.
To accommodate multiplatform access across the country, in 2013 the Swiss parliament instructed the Federal Council, or cabinet, to revise the 2007 Federal Radio and Television Act. The changes would substitute the radio and television reception fee with a universal fee paid by every household. This fee would also help fund public service radio and television.