Switzerland: Fewer readers, less diversity

The news of Duke d'Estaing's military campaign in Grenada appeared as the lead story on 12 January 1780 in the first-ever issue of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (at that time still just Zürcher Zeitung). This marked the beginning of a free press in Switzerland. When the Swiss Federation was founded in 1848, freedom of the press was enshrined in its constitution. And to this day Switzerland still enjoys impressive levels of press freedom, despite the increasing concentration of ownership on the media market.

The NZZ has an excellent reputation in Switzerland and abroad (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The NZZ has an excellent reputation in Switzerland and abroad (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The Swiss broadcasting company SRG was founded in 1931 and is now called Swiss Radio and Television (SRF). SRF broadcasts in Switzerland's four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch. It is legally required to provide information in all regions and receives licence fees for doing so.

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 print media play an important role in Switzerland. There are around 2,700 of them, including over 450 daily newspapers. Of the national newspapers the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) has a particularly good reputation in Switzerland and abroad. Other prominent papers are the French-language Le Temps and the Italian Corriere del Ticino.

A growing number of regional dailies have been taken over by Tamedia and the NZZ group in recent years. The merger of publishers Ringier and Axel Springer Schweiz on 1 January 2016 accelerated the process of media concentration. There are now only a few dailies left that are independent of the big publishers. The takeover of formerly liberal papers like the Basler Zeitung and the prestigious weekly Weltwoche by conservative publishers made headlines. These publications have jumped on the bandwagon of the populist Schweizer Volkspartei (SVP), which campaigns against the EU, foreigners and asylum-seekers. Roger Köppel, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Weltwoche who has also been a member of the Swiss parliament for the SVP since 2015, exemplifies this trend.

Free newspapers continue to be very successful. The success of the free newspaper 20 Minuten has prompted other papers, including tabloid Blick, to follow their example. A free evening edition of Blick is now distributed in urban centres. The numerous Sunday papers which focus on reading culture and long articles can be seen as a kind of counter-trend. Very few Swiss newspapers these days have no Sunday edition. But this has done little to rescue sales figures. The more stable papers are ones like the leftist weekly WOZ with financing models that rely much less on advertising.

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 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 Rating:
Reporters Without Borders: 7th place (2017)
Freedom House: 7th place - status: free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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