Broad support for direct funding of Swiss media Journalists in the Swiss capital, Bern, recently launched a new online media. The platform, financed via crowd-funding, will compete alongside "Der Bund" and "Berner Zeitung", which are both owned by the Tamedia media organisation. Keystone / Anthony Anex

The coronavirus pandemic has further weakened Switzerland’s already struggling media industry. To help news organisations, the authorities want to give the press more financial aid. This idea currently has broad support, including among the Swiss public, but voters may get to decide on the issue next year.

This content was published on November 2, 2021

The Swiss media landscape is going through turbulent times. Built on a rich offering of diverse publications and platforms, it has suddenly found itself in decline. Overtaken by global digital giants, the Swiss media are increasingly concentrated in the hands of just a few companies; the pandemic has not helped the situation.

To offer some protection against the constant process of consolidation and against further risks, Simonetta Sommaruga, the minister in charge of communications, with the support of the government, proposed a new federal policy to subsidise the press. Parliament approved a related law in summer.

The scale of subsidies on offer has multiplied. Instead of the CHF30 million ($32 million) given to media organisations every year, the state plans to offer CHF120 million annually for seven years.

The way in which the funds are attributed has also changed. In the past, the authorities only shouldered the costs of newspaper deliveries – an indirect form of state aid. Under the new proposals, it will also finance journalistic content via direct payments to private online media. That alone is expected to cost CHF30 million a year.


The new law has generated opposition from conservative-liberal representatives from politics and business circles and from “Friends of the Constitution”, a citizens’ group that campaigns against the government’s Covid prevention measures.

The former argue that state aid will simply accelerate the consolidation of the Swiss press, as it will mainly benefit a small handful of dominant publishers.

The citizens’ group views things slightly differently. It says the aid is a threat to freedom of speech in Switzerland as it may encourage the emergence of “state media”. Opponents have launched a referendum and are collecting signatures. Swiss voters will probably vote on the issue on February 13, 2022.

European leader

What is striking is that the Swiss public seem to be more in favour of direct state aid for the press than the residents of any other European country. A recent surveyExternal link by the University of Zurich found that 37% of Swiss respondents approve of government support for private media that are struggling financially.

External Content

Ireland (32%) came second, followed by Austria (31%) and Belgium (29%). Britain was ranked the lowest with just 11%. The authors based their European comparisons on a study conducted by the Reuters Institute in early 2021.

Reasons for strong support

“The results surprised us,” said Linards Udris, deputy research director at the fög research institute at the University of Zurich. He sees the relatively high support in Switzerland as evidence of a high level of public trust in the Swiss media. Public debate about the licence fee – and in particular for the 2018 No Billag initiative vote – has raised awareness about this issue, he says. “But with 37%, there is still a large proportion of those surveyed who are unsure or undecided on this question,” he said.

An important reason for Switzerland’s leading position, says Udris, is general awareness of the importance of the media in Switzerland, where voters have to regularly make informed decisions on issues.

This is confirmed by the extensive use of traditional media like radio, television, newspapers and online platforms before votes, he said. The same goes for the Federal Chancellery’s official vote brochure that is delivered to each Swiss home before a vote or election. “The Swiss know that these are reliable sources of information,” the media researcher said.

Disturbing fake news

The use of traditional media has been particularly high during the pandemic, noted Udris. “During tough times people want to be informed by traditional media,” he said. Half of those questioned by the Zurich researchers team say false or misleading information is problematic in crises, but less so during votes and elections.

On this point, the authors propose establishing independent organisations or fact-checking websites to identify and correct false information.

SWI, which is one of the few Swiss media to offer such a service, was included in fög’s Yearbook Quality of the Media for the first time. When comparing Swiss public media online sites, the Zurich researchers gave a high score for the quality of its “pertinent reportages and well-researched background articles”.

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