Switzerland: Concentration and shift to the right

Switzerland’s media market is now divided among just a handful of publishing houses, a number of which have shifted to the right in recent years. But is there a counter-movement?

Roger Köppel, publisher and editor-in-chief of Die Weltwoche and a member of the National Council for the SVP.
Roger Köppel, publisher and editor-in-chief of Die Weltwoche and a member of the National Council for the SVP.
The concentration of media in Switzerland has reached dramatic proportions. For example since 2018 Tamedia, the country's largest private media group (Tages-Anzeiger, Der Bund, Tribune de Genève and others), has only two newsrooms for all its fourteen newspapers, one for its German-language publications and one for its French ones. NZZ Regionalmedien (including St. Galler Tagblatt) and AZ medien (including the Aargauer Zeitung) announced their merger in late 2017. The publishers Ringier and Axel Springer Switzerland had already merged on January 1, 2016.

Another problem with the Swiss media landscape is the influence of the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party (SVP): Somedia (Südostschweiz) is already cooperating with the thirty or so newspapers that belong to the reactionary billionaire Christoph Blocher, long-time mentor of the SVP and co-owner of Zeitungshaus AG (formerly BaZ Holding AG ). Roger Köppel, publisher and editor-in-chief of the weekly Die Weltwoche and since 2015 also a member of the National Council for the SVP, is another representative of the shift to the right among the established media. In April 2018, it came to light that Blocher had also secured stakes in various free newspapers in Zurich and western Switzerland.

A form of counter-movement is taking place, with alternative media increasingly establishing themselves alongside the leftist-alternative weekly paper WOZ. Founded as recently as January 2018, the online magazine Republik is funded by a cooperative of more than 20,000 readers. On the other hand the TagesWoche, which was ambitiously launched as a leftist counterpart to the Basler Zeitung, is fighting for survival.

The free newspapers are as successful as ever. 20 Minuten was the first to arrive in the cities. The established publishing houses followed suit, including the publisher of the tabloid Blick, which now distributes the Blick am Abend evening paper in urban centres. The Sunday newspapers, however, with their focus on reading culture and longer pieces, have also undergone a series of mergers but circulation figures continue to drop. The most stable among them are weekly papers like the WOZ, which financially rely very little on advertising.

In March 2018 an attempt to remove the financial basis of the public broadcaster Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) with a referendum on the abolition of radio licence fees (the "No Billag" referendum) failed. However, under the severe pressure a stringent austerity program was announced and annual fees are to be reduced by a fifth as of 2019. At this stage it is unclear what consequences this will have for the broadcaster, which was founded in 1931.

Swiss radio was deregulated in the 1980s and private radio stations were allowed to go on air. This fuelled the media concentration process to such an extent that nowadays the market is dominated by just a handful of multimedia groups.

The importance of blogs and apps is growing. Many of them are run by the daily papers. But independent online formats are also becoming more popular. Successful websites such as Watson (AZ Medien) have gained a reputation as exciting alternatives to traditional journalism. But the established media are retaliating, for instance the NZZ, which in 2014 made all the articles it has published since 1780 available online - for a fee.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 5 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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