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Swiss voters ponder axing TV licence

From BBC - March 2, 2018

Voters in Switzerland will go to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to abolish the mandatory licence fee for public broadcasting.

At the moment each household pays 451 Swiss francs a year ($480; 348) to receive television and radio. Additional funding comes from a limited amount of advertising.

The public broadcaster, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), offers countrywide programming in all four national languages (German, French, Italian, and Romantsch) as well as a number of local television and radio stations.

Supporters of keeping the fee say it is essential that a small country like Switzerland, population just 8.4 million, has a national broadcaster which reflects its cultural and linguistic diversity.

But those who want to abolish it argue that too many citizens are being forced to pay for too many programmes they do not watch.

Freedom of choice

Florian Maier, a key figure in the campaign against the fee, believes that getting rid of it will allow people freedom of choice.

"I think people should choose on their own how they spend their money," he said.

"It's giving people freedom. Freedom is when you are not forced by anyone so there is no coercion of any kind. You know what you pay for."

Other opponents of the license fee argue that the SBC - whose structure was originally modelled on that of the BBC - has become bloated and inefficient.

The three main television channels (German, French, and Italian) each have their own newsrooms, each send foreign correspondents to the world's major capitals.

There are also websites, and local radio stations in many Swiss towns and cities. Far more than a public broadcaster should have, the abolitionists argue, and so extensive that private media is being stifled.

Death to diversity

Supporters of the license fee see things rather differently. Diego Yanez, a long-time journalist with Swiss-German language television and now director of Switzerland's school of journalism in Lucerne, sees the public broadcaster as an integral part of Switzerland itself.

"The Swiss are very proud to be a country with four languages," he said.

"There is no culture base which is common, so you have to create other common bases, and one of those bases is a public radio and television which is working all over the country for all parts of it, for all cultures of it. This is a part of how Switzerland has become a very effective and a very strong country."

Ending the license fee may not mean the end of SBC altogether, but for Switzerland's tiny Romantsch programmes, for the Swiss Italian and some of the Swiss French output, there are not enough viewers or listeners to cover the costs.

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