Swiss voters mull public aid plan for newspapers and media

It’s a widespread lament that many traditional newspapers, especially smaller local newspapers, and other outlets have seen their subscriptions dry up as international internet giants rush into their traditional advertising markets.

GENEVA – It’s a widespread lament that traditional newspapers, especially smaller local newspapers, and other outlets have seen their subscriptions dry up as international internet giants rush into the market for advertisements that have long helped daily, weekly and monthly publications survive.

In Switzerland, the government has drawn up aid plans. Swiss voters have the final say on Sunday in what polls have suggested is becoming an increasingly tight contest.

Voters were voting on the government’s plan, adopted in June, to inject more than 150 million francs (about $163 million) into broadcast and print media each year, including – initially – supporting the delivery of early morning newspapers and online media to the tune of 70 million francs (nearly $76 million) per year.

Opponents of the plan have gathered enough signatures in a petition to take the issue to the public, part of the special form of Swiss democracy that gives voters in the country of 8.5 million people a direct voice in shaping policy several times a year.

Opponents of the plan say the cash injection would waste taxpayers’ money, benefit big news outlets and the media moguls who run them and undermine journalists’ independence – making the media more dependent on subsidies state and therefore less likely to criticize officials. They also say it’s discriminatory: free newspapers, for example, wouldn’t benefit.

“A media subsidized by the state is a media under control. As the saying goes, ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’,” wrote the opponents who pushed for the referendum. They say that the major print media groups together made more than 300 million in profits in 2020, even during the COVID-19 crisis.

Many other countries in Europe and beyond offer support to newspapers, including through postage reductions, tax breaks and other measures.

Proponents of the injection of funds counter that journalism, especially in local areas underserved by large media groups, should be considered a public service, as are many public radio and television broadcasters in Switzerland, throughout Europe.

“Media groups are fighting to survive. Print media advertising revenue has been steadily declining or being swallowed up by giants like Facebook and Google, and subscriptions are not enough,” writes the Swiss Green Party, which supports the measure.

The new funds would mainly go towards subsidies or tax breaks on print media distribution, training of journalists and support for news agencies in Switzerland. Part of the funds would go to publications by associations or non-governmental groups such as the Swiss-based WWF or the country’s best-known automobile association.

Supporters insist that newspapers in Switzerland need help, saying more than 70 have disappeared since 2003. Advertising revenue from all print publications has fallen by 42% between 2016 and 2020 in Switzerland.

Some 30 million francs would go to online publications to ensure that readers can obtain local information via the Internet.

The media subsidy measure is one of four questions on the nationwide ballots on Sunday. Another envisions a government plan to eliminate some inherited fees from corporations — and essentially give them a tax break. Yet another aims to limit the advertising of tobacco products in areas frequented by children.

A fourth issue would prohibit the use of animals and people in testing, with a few exceptions – the adoption of which could have major implications both for imports of certain products and for research in the Swiss pharmaceutical industry. much vaunted.

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