Switzerland's telecoms regulator has launched an investigation into a television show featuring Justice Minister Christoph Blocher amid concerns over its legality.This content was published on September 18, 2007 - 12:09
The figurehead of the rightwing Swiss People's Party announced at the weekend that he would be appearing once a week on three regional television stations in the run-up to October's general elections.
Under the country's radio and television laws, stations are forbidden from broadcasting paid-for political propaganda.
The Federal Communications Office (Ofcom) told swissinfo on Monday that it wants to establish whether money changed hands over the programmes, which are the first of their kind by a government minister.
"We will be asking broadcasters for all the documentation they have concerning these programmes in order to see whether there is any kind of financial agreement between the producers and the TV stations," Ofcom spokeswoman Caroline Sauser told swissinfo.
"If money has changed hands, this would be seen as either advertising or sponsorship."
If the law has been broken, broadcasters will have to hand over any proceeds to Ofcom and ensure future programmes are made correctly. In a worst-case scenario, a station could be fined, added Sauser.
Speaking at the weekend, the justice minister said the 15-minute "Teleblocher" broadcasts, which are also available on the internet, would feature him being interviewed on topical issues.
The opening instalment sees Blocher reiterating claims that there is a secret plot to stop him being re-elected to the seven-strong cabinet.
Blocher is under fire – and under investigation – over allegedly plotting to oust former chief prosecutor Valentin Roschacher, who resigned last year.
The justice minister has strongly denied that he is using the programmes as a propaganda tool for the election campaign. "Only four programmes will be broadcast before the elections," he said.
However, Peter Studer, president of the Swiss Press Council, does not share this view. He told Swiss-German television that the fact the interview was appearing on political websites marked it out as propaganda.
He also questioned the uncritical interviewing technique of journalist Matthias Ackeret, who has written a book on Blocher.
Rainer Stadler, media editor at the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, is also unimpressed. He said it was one thing for Blocher to sound off on the internet, but another for him to be given free rein on television.
"When I watched this programme it was like something from the former East Germany when journalists were very servile towards representatives of the government," he said.
The Ofcom investigation comes amid increasingly bitter campaigning ahead of next month's parliamentary elections.
On Monday the speaker of the House of Representatives appealed for calm at the opening of the final parliamentary session before voters go to the polls.
swissinfo, Adam Beaumont
The rightwing Swiss People's Party has been dominating the headlines during the 2007 election campaign.
It has accused political opponents of plotting against Christoph Blocher, after he came in for harsh criticism by a key parliamentary committee over the resignation last year of the country's chief prosecutor.
The party's provocative poster campaign showing three white sheep kicking a black sheep out of the country has attracted widespread criticism – and publicity.
Latest polls show the People's Party on course to maintain its position as the country's biggest party, with more than 25% of the vote.
Other cabinet ministers active in the media include Pascal Couchepin, who used to write a column for the Blick newspaper.
Communications Minister Moritz Leuenberger has his own blog: http://moritzleuenberger.blueblog.ch/
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