Swiss voters support public assistance plan for media and newspapers

It is a common plight: Subscriptions to traditional newspapers have been dropping, particularly for small-scale local publications.

Swiss voters support public assistance plan for media and newspapers

International internet giants have taken over the advertising market, allowing them to sell advertisements that have long supported daily, weekly, and monthly publications.

The government of Switzerland has made plans to assist. In a contest that polls suggest is becoming increasingly close, Swiss voters will have final say on Sunday.

Voters cast ballots for the government's June plan to inject more 150 million Francs (about $163 millions) into broadcast and printed media each year. This includes -- in a first -- support for early-morning newspaper delivery, and online media up to 70 million Francs (nearly $76 million) annually.

The plan's opponents gathered enough signatures to launch a petition drive. This is part of Switzerland's special democracy, which gives citizens in the country of 8.3 million the right to vote on policymaking multiple times per year.

The plan's opponents claim that the cash injection would cost taxpayer money, benefit media moguls and big newspaper chains, and harm journalistic independence. They argue that the cash injection will make media outlets more dependent upon state handouts and therefore less likely to criticize government officials. It's also discriminatory. Free newspapers, for instance, would not be benefited.

"A state-subsidized media is one that is under control." Opponents who demanded the referendum said, "Don't bite the hand that feeds your soul." According to them, the profits of large print-media companies amounted to more than 300,000,000 in 2020, including during the COVID-19 crises.

Many countries across Europe and the world offer support for newspapers, including postal fee discounts and tax breaks.

The cash injection supporters argue that journalism, particularly in areas where big media companies have failed to serve, should be considered public service. This is similar to the public radio and television broadcasters throughout Europe, including Switzerland.

Media groups are trying to survive. The decline in ad revenues from print media has continued or is being swallowed up and absorbed by giants such as Facebook and Google. Subscriptions are not enough," said the Swiss Green party which supports the measure.

Most of the new money would go towards tax breaks or subsidies for distribution of print media, training journalists and support for Swiss news agencies. Some funds could be used to publish publications of associations or non-governmental organizations like the Swiss-based WWF, or the most well-known automotive association in the country.

Advocates claim that newspapers in Switzerland are in dire need of help. They say more than 70 newspapers have disappeared since 2003. Between 2016 and 2020 in Switzerland, advertising revenue for all print publications fell by 42%

Online publications would receive 30 million Francs to ensure that readers have access to local news via the internet.

On Sunday, the media subsidy issue is one of four on the ballots. Another issue is a government plan that would eliminate legacy fees from corporations, essentially giving them a tax cut. Another plan aims to restrict advertising for tobacco products in areas that are frequented most by children.

The fourth issue would prohibit the use of animals or people in testing, with some exceptions. This could have significant implications for imports and research in Switzerland’s highly-regarded pharmaceutical industry.


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