Adapting the public service in the media sector to digitisation

Bern, 17.06.2016 - Even in the age of the internet and digitisation, Switzerland remains committed to an independent and comprehensive public service in the media sector. In order to continue to meet this challenge, the framework conditions for licensed radio and television broadcasters at the national and regional level must be adapted. In its report published today, the Federal Council comes to the conclusion that for direct democracy in Switzerland, which is characterised by linguistic and cultural diversity, the existing model with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC or SRG SSR) as a major provider anchored in all the linguistic regions has proved itself and that this guarantees a high-quality public service. The model is also the most suitable one for the future. However, the demands on the SRG SSR must be made more stringent – though with the same budget. Furthermore, the SRG SSR must better address the requirements of young people who are turning to the internet.

With postulate 14.3298 the Council of State’s Transport and Telecommunications Committees (TTC) commissioned the Federal Council to examine and present the SRG SSR's public service offerings, and to take the private-sector broadcasters into consideration. The report depicts a media landscape which is undergoing profound changes. Digitisation has changed media usage habits and media offerings have multiplied. The younger generation in particular is increasingly turning away from the classic media. Young people make distinctly less use of public service programming than older people. For example, SRF television reaches only 20% of people under 24, but 70% of the over-60s.

A public service funded by fees remains essential

Today, alongside the licensed public service broadcasters, there is a multiplicity of radio and television offerings, thanks to simplified broadcasting possibilities. These broadcasters are not required to fulfil a performance mandate and do not receive funding from fee-revenues. Their commercial programming is generally orientated towards entertainment. However, resource-intensive offerings in the areas of information, culture or education cannot be funded from the advertising market without support from fees.

For reasons related to national policy and in fulfilment of the constitutional obligation, it is essential for the Federal Council that Switzerland continues in the future to have an independent and comprehensive public service funded by a solid system of fees. Switzerland’s federalist, multilingual structure needs an audio-visual landscape which takes all population groups into account. This is a key factor for the integration of all social groupings (language communities, people with sensory disabilities, different generations, people with a migration background) and for the functioning of direct democracy. It is precisely in the era of the internet, with its global, virtually unlimited offerings that high-quality information, cultural, educational and entertainment offerings from the national public service represent an important aid to orientation for the inhabitants of Switzerland. There is therefore a need for attractive content which can compete with foreign programme services.

Adaptation of licences

The Federal Council is convinced that such an independent and comprehensive public service can be ensured in practical terms only by a large provider anchored in all the language regions and by private broadcasters in the regions. The existing model has worked satisfactorily and meets the requirements, though it must be adapted to the digital environment.

The new licences in 2019 provide an opportunity to make specific adjustments. In the case of the fee-funded local radio and regional television stations, more precise standards must be embedded to determine the structure of regional information services. In the future, the Federal Council expects the SRG SSR’s programming and online offerings to be better differentiated from commercial content than in the past. In the SRG SSR’s licence the broad scope and high level of information content should continue to be the keystones. In relation to entertainment, attempts should be made to attain standards which ensure the leading editorial role of the SRG SSR as well as the distinctiveness of the public service compared with purely commercial broadcasters. Furthermore, the requirements relating to the SRG SSR’s integration services should be made more rigorous. The SRG SSR must have a presence with its offerings wherever the public - and especially young people - are.

Existing funding levels retained

The Federal Council concludes that the resources currently flowing into the SRG SSR are sufficient to ensure the public service. If the proceeds from reception fees continue to increase as a result of population growth, it will examine the possibility of a reduction of the fee for households. To meet the new standards, the SRG SSR is required to focus on the essentials in terms of production and broadcasting and to make even more efficient use of its resources.

Consideration of the private-sector media

To enable the Swiss media to continue to exist in competition, the Federal Council supports co-operation between the SRG SSR and private-sector media and between the licensed regional television broadcasters. The current advertising restrictions, including those in the online sector, are to remain for the time being. This will result in a degree of economic balance in relation to the private-sector media.

Increasing legitimacy

The Federal Council expects the public service to enhance its perceived legitimacy as a service to society and to demonstrate more clearly its added value for society. In this context greater dialogue with the public and politicians is indispensable.

Legislation which is converging in the medium term

In view of digitisation and changing media usage habits, in the medium term the Federal Council would like to develop the current Radio and Television Act into a law on electronic media, because a law which covers only radio and television is no longer keeping pace with developments.

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