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Media Landscapes


Written by Werner A. Meier


Switzerland is a small, landlocked country in the heart of Europe. Neighbours of Switzerland are Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France. Switzerland has a strategic location at the crossroads of central Europe and covers 41,290 square km for 7.702 m inhabitants. One key feature of Switzerland is its cultural diversity. There are as many as four different official languages – German, spoken by 64 percent of the population, French (19 percent), Italian (8 percent) and Romansch (<1 percent) – which more or less define four different mentalities. The remaining 8 percent can be attributed to the languages spoken by immigrants. Foreigners account for some 22 percent of the population.

The Swiss political system is highly differentiated and complex. The principle of direct democracy applies to three different levels: federal, regional and local. Switzerland consists of 26 “cantons” i.e. states. Each canton is divided into districts. Each district consists of a number of municipalities. All in all, there are 2,636 municipalities in Switzerland. The municipalities are in charge of, for instance, community services, electricity, water, fire brigade, police, local roads, schools and taxes.

This multilevel system is the result of Switzerland's sociocultural and sociopolitical diversity. This structure, on the one hand, creates opportunities for political articulation but, on the other hand, is also responsible for a variety of tensions among interest groups on these three levels.

The Swiss political party scene is stable. After the last parliamentary elections in 2007 30 percent of the seats are held by centre parties (Liberal Democratic Party FDP and Christian Democratic Party CVP) another 30 percent goes to the increasingly popular right-wing party SVP (Democratic Union of the Centre), while the left-wing (socialist and green) makes up another 30 percent.

Switzerland is one of the last remaining European countries that are not a member of the European Union. In May 2000 (Bilateral Agreement I) and June 2005 (Bilateral Agreement II / Dublin/Schengen), the Swiss people accepted far-reaching bilateral contracts with the EU. In March 2002, Swiss voters narrowly accepted a popular initiative making Switzerland a full member of the United Nations.

Main features:

  • A strong position of the public broadcaster SRG SSR
  • A strong role for the linguistic regions in public broadcasting
  • A very high degree of cable households
  • An ongoing digitization of the terrestrial TV
  • Convergence: Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), Internet radio and Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB-T)

The Federal Government (Bundesrat) has the legal right to issue licences to the public broadcaster SRG SSR and to provide it with funding from licence fee resources for the production of radio (fully funded) and television (partially funded) programmes. Public service and the licence fee are, thus, inseparable. In return, SRG SSR is entrusted with a special mandate to provide all linguistic regions with programmes of equal quality on a public service basis.

SRG SSR has to reflect the realities of Swiss life in all its facets, including politics, the arts, society, the economy, sports and entertainment. Its programmes are designed to help viewers and listeners find their way in the complex realities of life in Switzerland. In particular, its programmes have to promote mutual understanding and exchange between the various parties, linguistic communities and cultures that exist in the country. Apart from the licence fee revenue, Swiss broadcasting is co-financed by advertising.

In 2008, SRG SSR received 752 million euro through licence fees, while advertising (only on TV – ads on national radio are prohibited) generated a revenue of 241 million euro. Annually, a private user pays 110 euro licence fee for radio reception and another 191 euro for TV reception. Since the Federal Government has the final say as far as the actual amount of the licence fee is concerned, there is an element of dependence in the relationship between the SRG SSR and the state.

In total, SRG SSR employs 6,164 people, 43 percent of whom are women (2008). Women working in higher positions make 26 percent (2008).

Its programming charter reads as follows: serving the public, freedom and responsibility, integrity, committed to truthful and impartial reporting, transparency, fairness, consideration for the audience, accountability and conducting remarks.

For the distribution of funds, there is a system of financial compensation in place which transfers money from the largest linguistic region to the two smaller ones. In order to enable the French- and the Italian-language regions to produce and receive programmes that are of an equally high quality as in German-speaking Switzerland, they receive an over-proportional amount of the funding.

Although the licence fee revenues from the German-speaking population add up to 70 percent of the of licence fee revenues in total, the programme producers in that region only receive around 46 percent of that total amount. Without cross-subsidies – as a sort of contribution to national solidarity – it would be nearly impossible to set up and maintain a full television programme in all linguistic parts of Switzerland.

Main features:

  • A large number of regional titles, but no national newspapers (due to different languages)
  • A regional newspaper market (owned by big publishing houses) that remains strong but is highly dependent on shrinking advertising income
  • An increase in economic and journalistic concentration
  • A free-of-charge press with a large share of readership and increasing commercial success for the market leader 20 Minuten.
  • A newspaper readership, which has not varied substantially in the last decade and remains on a high level compared to most of EU countries

All daily newspapers in Switzerland featuring a circulation over 100,000 copies are owned by multimedia companies. Ringier, the largest publishing company, owns the daily tabloid newspaper Blick (circulation in 2009: 214,555), the free evening sheet Blick am Abend (225,226) and Sonntagsblick (247,449), the leading Sunday newspaper. Ringier also publishes the weekly magazine Schweizer Illustrierte (204,856). Tamedia AG publishes Tages-Anzeiger (209,297) and SonntagsZeitung (194,764), a Sunday newspaper and the Berner Zeitung (208,694). Tamedia also publishes the daily newspaper 20 Minuten (536,473) in the German speaking part, and 20 minutes (229,729) in the French speaking part, a Monday to Friday daily for commuters, which is free of charge. Both Ringier and Tamedia are based in Zurich and are owned by one single family each, although Tamedia went public six years ago offering 20 percent of their shares.

The AG für die Neue Zürcher Zeitung, also situated in Zurich, is the publisher of Neue Zürcher Zeitung (139,732), Neue Luzerner Zeitung (127,244) and St. Galler Tagblatt (95,469). It also publishes the third Sunday newspaper in the greater region of Zurich, NZZ am Sonntag (128,516). The leading publishing house in the French-speaking part of Switzerland is Edipresse which controls two-thirds of the newspaper circulation in that language part, with its four large dailies 24heuroes (81,566), Le Matin (58,849), Tribune de Genève (56,333), Le Temps (45,506)) and the Sunday paper Le Matin Dimanche (193,601).

In 2009 Tamedia acquired 49.9 percent of Edipresse. As from 2011 Tamedia will hold the majority. It is worth pointing to the fact that with this takeover a publishing house situated in the German speaking part of Switzerland will soon control the majority of the leading newspapers in the French speaking part.

Media concentration forces single newspaper titles to merge or to shut down. More and more small and medium-size newspapers have been forced out of the market or have been taken over by large publishing companies. The recent economic crisis of 2008/2009 hit the media sector hard. Even leading daily newspapers had to dismiss a good part of their staff. Latest victim of the crisis is the news agency office of Associate Press (AP) in Switzerland that was first sold to DDP Media AG and then, in January 2010, was taken over by the national news wire service SDA (Schweizerische Depeschenagentur).

Advertising provides around 75 percent of revenues. From 2008 to 2009 advertising income in the print sector has lost 19 percent and reached 1.06 billion euro. The profitability of newspapers increasingly depends on advertisement, as circulation is falling. Therefore, all common forms of press concentration – publisher concentration (a declining number of publishing houses), journalistic concentration (a declining number of fully staffed papers), and a concentration of circulation can be observed in Switzerland. This tendency towards concentration also leads to increasing co-operation between publishing houses in logistics and printing.

In 2008 203 newspapers were published daily or weekly. This is exactly half of the titles which appeared in 1939. Hardly any new dailies have bee  launched in the past 50 years (in 1959 the tabloid Blick, and in 1989 Le Nouveau Quotidien – relaunched in 2000 as Le Temps). A new phenomenon greatly influencing the newspaper market is the launch of the free-of-charge papers like 20 Minuten and others since 1999. After a long fight for about ten years, the market has now been divided. 20 Minuten and 20 minutes (both Tamedia) provide the commuters with information in the morning and Blick am Abend (Ringier) in the evening on their way back home.

The SRG SSR structure reflects the fact that Switzerland is multilingual as well as multicultural, and production facilities are distributed all over the language regions. Six radio studios (Zurich, Berne, Basle, Geneva, Lausanne and Lugano) and four regional studios (Aarau, Chur, Lucerne, St. Gall) providing regional news produce sixteen channels, totalling 159,610 hours of radio broadcasting annually (2008).

In the radio sector, national public radio competes heavily with regional commercial radio. Two thirds of the market share goes to public radio stations, about 29 percent to regional commercial radio stations. Competition from abroad is almost insignificant.

The leading position of the public broadcast radio stations is obvious when looking at the market shares: in 2009 the German speaking stations DRS 1 (focus on news, general information and Swiss and easy listening music) claimed 36 percent of the market share. DRS 2 (classic music, culture) made four percent, DRS 3 (pop music) accounted for 17 percent. DRS 4 (exclusively news – no music at all), launched in November 2007, and Virus (for the young listeners) can be received via cable, Internet or satellite. They reach a market share of less than one percent. The market shares of the corresponding public radio stations of the French speaking part reads as follows: La Première: 40 percent, Espace 2: four percent, Couleuro 3.7 percent. And for the Italian speaking part: Rete Uno: 49 percent, Rete Due: 6 percent, Rete Tre: 16 percent.

The regional commercial radio stations with the biggest market share are (2nd semester 2009): in the German speaking part: Radio 24, Energy Zürich, Argovia, Zürisee, Central, FM1, Radio Top, Pilatus, Radio 32, Sunshine, Basilisk; in the French speaking part: BNJ FM, Rouge FM, Lausanne FM, ne FM, Rhône FM, Lac; in the Italian speaking part: 3i, Fiume Ticino.

Three television studios of the public broadcaster SRG SSR in Geneva, Lugano and Zurich produce six independent programmes – two for each linguistic region – as well as special programmes in the Romansch language. In addition, SF info repeats the German-language news and information programmes. In detail in 2009 (persons from the age of three/24 hours) the programmes of public TV reached following market shares (in their corresponding language region): German speaking part: SF1: 23 percent, SF2 (sports, movies): 9 percent. French speaking part: TSR1: 22 percent, TSR2: 7 percent. Italian speaking part: RSI La1: 20 percent, RSI La2: 7 percent.

In the television sector, competition is more or less limited to the SRG SSR and the foreign television channels. In each language part, private and public TV stations from neighbouring countries reach a considerable number of viewers. There are also Swiss commercial TV stations, but only in the German-speaking part, namely STAR TV, Schweiz 5 and 3+. In addition, there are regional commercial TV broadcasters in all three language regions. In the German-speaking part: Schaffhauser Fernsehen, TeleBärn, TeleBasel, Tele Bielingue, Tele M1, TeleTell, Tele Ostschweiz, Tele Südostschweiz, TeleTop, TeleZüri Tele1; in the French speaking part: Canal 9, Canal Alpha, Canal NV, la télé, maxtv, ICI télévison, TV Léman Bleu, TV Région Lausannoise and in the Italian speaking part: TeleTicino.

Some of these private regional stations get splits of the licence fees in order to help them to provide regional variety. In 2008, the total of 10.3 million euro was given to 17 commercial stations.

Compared with other countries, the Swiss have a low TV consumption. On average, they watch TV 147 minutes daily. In 2008 about 32 percent of the market share went to the public TV broadcasters, while private TV channels made not more than about 8 percent. TV channels from abroad accounted for 60 percent.

80 percent of all households have access to cable TV and receive over 50 channels. More than 10 percent of all Swiss households have access to a satellite dish. In 2009 a 29 percent share of the whole advertising market went to TV, and 52 percent of the whole advertising market was absorbed by print media. Radio made four percent, the Internet three percent. Eleven percent were spent on billboard advertising. 

SRG SSR is about to extend digital terrestrial reception for radio and TV. Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) is the medium-term, digital extension to the FM system. Terrestrial digital radio solves the problem of the shortage of frequencies in the existing FM system and significantly improves the quality of mobile radio reception. More importantly, it is a convergent system that permits the transmission of radio, text, pictures and data-only files of all types. Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial (DVB-T) allows the transmission of digital added-value services via the conventional television aerial (terrestrial broadcasting). It is the current standard for broadcasting digital television to households, which do not have cable, and to mobile receivers.

Going to the cinema is one of the most attractive cultural leisure activities in Switzerland. Statistics show big differences: younger people living in or close to cities often go to the cinema. Like in other countries cinema theatres have had to fight against TV, home videos and DVDs in the past 30 to 40 years. The number of shown movies in the past ten years has been quite stable though. In 2008 cinema theatres in Switzerland released a total of 402 début movies.

The majority came from the EU27 countries, namely 185. Another 110 movies were US productions and 58 were Swiss movies. Overall, in 2008 the cinema theatres showed 1478 different movies. Compared with the year 2000 there is a considerable increase from 322 début movies to 402 and from a total of shown movies of 1328 to 1478 respectively. Switzerland has 564 halls with a total of 112,857 seats. In 2008 14.3 million tickets were sold.

The market shows a clear picture. In 2008 the big movies came from the US with a market share of 63 percent. The 185 movies from the EU27 states add up to 31 percent while the 58 movies from Switzerland share 3 percent of the market.

Like in other European countries the Swiss film industry depends on public subsidies. In 2010 the Federal Office of Culture (Bundesamt für Kultur) has a budget of 10.8 million euro to support film projects. Fundings coming from the cantons are another source of capital for filmmakers. Furthermore, the public broadcaster SRG SSR has a long-term commitment in film subsidy. In 2009 it spent about 14 million euro on co-productions that where shown on TV and in cinema theatres. In addition private foundations (e.g. Migros Kulturprozent) are essential for Swiss filmmakers.

52 percent of all Internet users have a subscription with the formerly state-owned telephone company Swisscom. Cablecom counts for 17 percent and Sunrise for 8 percent of the subscriptions. Other small companies share the remaining 23 percent. Telecommunication providers have agreed on a coordinated expansion of a fibre-optic cable network on the basis of state governance. The regulatory challenge is to avoid a monopoly and to boost innovation at the same time.

At the end of 2008 there were 2.9 million broadband connections. Mobile broadband only has a market share of 13 percent. Since the public authorities are pushing the fibre optic infrastructure forward, IPTV (TV over Internet) will become more attractive. Overall, the complexity of regulation tasks will increase due to the convergence of infrastructure and media.

8.9 million mobile phones are in use. This is a coverage of about 115 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. Swisscom is the dominating actor with 60 percent of all customers, followed by its competitors Sunrise with 19, and Orange with 17 percent respectively. At the end of 2009 Sunrise and Orange have decided to merge and to position themselves under the new label of Orange Schweiz, a affiliate of France Télécom. When it comes to the level of supply, the population can count on 100 percent on GMS net or 93 percent on UMTS net respectively. GMS net covers 87 percent of the land area while UMTS net covers 57 percent.

Main features: 

  • An increase of Internet usage from 7 (1997) to 73 percent (2009)
  • Strong digital divide
  • Differences in usage depending on income and other demographic characteristics

Representative surveys provide information on the use of the Internet since 1997. The number of people using the Internet on a daily or nearly daily basis has grown from 7 percent in 1997 to 73 percent in 2009. The typical Swiss user of the Internet is well educated, well off, young and male – digital divides are obvious.

90 percent of the daily users have higher education, while users with basic education are daily users in only 65 percent of all cases. 44 percent of people over 50 are daily users, while 91 percent of the people between 14 and 29 use the Internet daily. Income accounts for the biggest gap: 91 percent of the people with a monthly income over 10,000 francs use the Internet daily, while only 35 percent of those earning less than 4,000 francs a month use the Internet on a daily basis. In fact, over the years, some gaps have even widened – especially with regard to age, income and education, while the differences between genders have remained constant over the past years. Gender still plays a role albeit not as a single feature.

Another finding is that the Internet is used differently by different socio-demographic groups: highly educated people use the Internet in a rather instrumental way (e.g. information seeking), while less educated people seem to use the Internet almost exclusively for entertainment purposes. The most common purposes for Internet use are (in order of priority for 2008): e-mails, search engines, timetables, current news, event guides, Internet banking, information about jobs or apartment vacancies, online shopping, music downloads, online auctions, chatting, telephoning, film downloads, online games.

Traditional mass media companies successfully kept their sovereignty as important information sources on the Internet. Some of the most frequently visited sites providing news information are web services from newspapers and public broadcasters. The most page impressions (369.5 million in November 2009) and unique clients (3.93 million) by far belong to the formerly state-owned telecommunication provider Swisscom. Bluewin has its own online newsroom. Its leading position though ascribes to its e-mail service for their customers. Following information websites take up the ranking: (2.44 million unique clients in November 2009), Blick online (2.09 million), (1.98 million), NZZ Online (1.49 million), (1.41 million), (845,000), (775,000), (694,000).

Other websites with high numbers of unique users are e.g. searching machines (, social network sites (, timetable for the public train system (, digital telephone books (,, search sites (, online market and auctions (,, e-mail services (, real estate market and job market (,

Main features: 

  • Monopoly on information supply: one national agency Schweizerische Depeschenagentu (SDA)
  • SDA providing information for all linguistic regions

Until January 2010 two main news agencies, SDA and an Associated Press (AP) affiliate, provided information for mass media. After the takeover of AP by SDA, the national agency SDA has now the monopoly on information supply. SDA, situated in Berne, is the only Swiss national agency that generates information in German, French and Italian. SDA is a publicly listed corporation owned by the Swiss publishers but in principal a non-profit organization. It is a classic news service, providing information about politics, economics, culture, social issues and miscellaneous from at home and abroad

Federations of commercial enterprises:

The main employers’ organization is the Swiss Association of Newspapers and Magazine Publishers (Verband Schweizer Presse). The commercial TV Channels cooperates in Telesuisse (Verband der Schweizer Regional Fernsehen), while commercial radio stations are associated in the Association of Swiss Private Radios (Verband Schweizer Privatradios)

Professional associations and unions:

There are several organizations, syndicates and associations for journalists. The main professional association is Die Schweizer Journalistinnen Impressum with more than 5,500 members. The biggest union, Comedia, counts 13,000 members from journalism, print, graphic industry, book trade and visual communication. With 3,500 members SSM (Schweizerisches Syndikat Medienschaffender) holds the interests for journalists working on TV and radio.

Main features:  

  • Freedom of the Press and freedom of trade guaranteed
  • Mandate of the Swiss Broadcasting corporation to provide a programme reflecting and maintaining the linguistic and cultural diversity of the country
  • Mandate of the Swiss Broadcasting corporation to provide adequate supply of all regions
  • Four interest groups influencing, defining and enforcing the standards, norms and values of the Swiss Media Landscape
  • UVEK and Bakom supervising the performance of Swiss radio and television broadcasting
  • Institutionalized programme-controlling and quality-ensuring authorities (UBI, Ombudsman)

Freedom of the press, radio and television is guaranteed in the Swiss Federal Constitution (art. 16). Furthermore, article 93/4 of the Constitution, which regulates radio and television, explicitly calls for the protection of the written press. There is, however, no legal obligation for the Swiss press to fulfil a public service mandate. Newspapers – as private enterprises – are only subject to free entrepreneuroial decisions and, of course, the market.

Switzerland’s linguistic and cultural diversity is a challenge to the public and commercial broadcasters. SRG SSR, i.e. the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, has the mandate to produce and disseminate radio and television programmes in the four official languages of the country. The institutionalization and organization of radio and television is based on article 93 of the new Swiss Federal Constitution. The act specifies information, education and entertainment – in this order – as the main tasks of Swiss radio and television. In addition, the act set up an independent complaints authority (UBI). The Federal Radio and Television Law (RTVG) dates from 1991 and has been revised in 2006 by the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly. The new law has entered into force in April 2007. According to the law, the electronic media – especially the public service - must:

  1. Contribute to the unrestricted formation of opinion, to the provision of general, wide-ranging and accurate information for listeners and viewers for their education and entertainment, and communicate knowledge on citizens’ rights and obligations in the democratic decision-making processes.
  2. Take into account the diversity of the country and its inhabitants, reflect this diversity, and promote mutual understanding.
  3. Promote Swiss cultural creativity and stimulate listeners and viewers to participate in cultural life.
  4. Facilitate contact with Swiss nationals living abroad and promote the presence of Switzerland and understanding of its interests abroad.
  5. Focus attention on Swiss audiovisual productions, especially films, and broadcast as many European productions as possible.
  6. The programmes dealing in a specific area must not favour specific political parties, interests or ideologies.
  7. The different parts of the country must be adequately provided with radio and television programmes.

Within this system, at least four interest groups influence the definition and enforcement of standards, norms, values and regulations in the Swiss media landscape:

Transnational actors: Among them the council of Europe is of particular importance for Swiss broadcasting policy, since Switzerland is not a member of the EU. The Swiss Government and Parliament have given their approval to the European Convention on transfrontier television, although the traditional liberal ideal of the free flow of information does not account for the structural handicaps of small, multicultural states.

National authorities: Mainly the Federal Government, the Federal Transportation, Communication and Energy Department (UVEK), the Parliament, the Federal Office for Communication in Bienne (Bakom) and the Independent Authority for Programme Complaints (UBI) contribute to the definition, protection and enforcement of norms, standards, values and regulatory activities.

Political parties: The political parties react – if at all – in the media sector according to their traditional platforms. The liberal and conservative parties in general favour the privatization and deregulation of the media system; the social democrats prefer the mass media to be as independent as possible from commercial pressure and support a viable public broadcasting system.

Media organizations: As powerful multipliers, on which politicians depend to a certain degree, media organizations can challenge or even obstruct government strategies, regulations and values they judge unfavourable to their interests. Especially the privately owned media companies are usually only willing to comply with special social, cultural or political obligations as long as the market rewards such activities. The fact that the willingness to oblige with these obligations vary across the commercial media landscape makes it difficult to implement a coherent media policy.

The regulation of the Swiss broadcasting system is moving in two directions: Offering access to private broadcasters while at the same time securing the structures of a productive system of public broadcasting, mainly for political and cultural reasons.

Bakom and UVEK are in charge of supervising the performance of Swiss radio and television broadcasting. Since 1984 the Independent Authority for Programme Complaints (UBI) has been evaluating complaints about programming. The eleven-member committee judges individual programmes according to professional norms and social values. In practice, the procedure works as follows: within twenty days of the initial transmission of a certain programme, anyone can lodge a complaint about a certain programme before the conciliation body of the broadcaster that has aired the programme (Ombudsman’s Office).

The Ombudsman will then investigate the matter and try to mediate between the parties. If the person lodging the complaint is still not satisfied with the Ombudsman’s findings, he or she can complain to the UBI. The complaint must be counter-signed by at least twenty people. UBI’s final decision can be challenged in the Federal Court. The UBI complaint procedure was originally designed to secure certain reporting standards. However, the number of complaints being filed through lawyers is growing and some proceedings thus take on a ‘legal’ dimension.

The Ombudsman’s Office and the UBI have to balance freedom of speech of producers and viewers, and the responsibility of electronic media to inform citizens in a reliable way. The institutionalisation of ‘programme-controlling’ authorities is an interesting, but also problematic way to secure the quality of programmes and the interests of viewers.

In 2008, the number of complaints submitted at the Ombudsman’s Office stood at 169. 19 percent of all complaints were being considered as legitimate. 17 cases could not be settled and reached the level of the UBI. In the past years, most complaints have been filed in the television sector, while the number of complaints against radio is negligible.

Different universities in Switzerland offer bachelor’s as well as master’s degrees in mass communication and media research. Thus, there are no specific programmes for vocational training at the universities with the exception of further education for communication professionals at the University of Zurich (e.g. communication in non-profit-organizations, health communication, political communication in administration, science communication).

Lately the universities of Applied Science have filled the gap. The Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaft (ZHAW) offers a bachelor’s programme in journalism and in organizational communication. The Schweizer Journalistenschule MAZ offers extra-occupational training for journalists with the degree of a diploma or a Master of Arts in Journalism. Another possibility to become a journalist offers the Schule für Angewandte Linguistik SAL or the Medienschule Nordwestschweiz.

Different institutions have been collecting data and information on the Swiss media landscape. Print runs and print coverage numbers are being collected by WEMF (AG für Werbemedienforschung). WEMF also collects data to cinema attendance and the Internet use. Mediapulse provides market data for TV and radio. To get an overview on the mass media regulation, law, subsidies etc. the website of the Federal Office for Communication presents adequate information.

The annual report of SRG SSR offers further information on structures and future reforms of the public broadcast landscape. The professional association Impressum publishes the magazine EDITO bimonthly. A similar bimonthly magazine is called Klartext. Another source is the trade journal Werbewoche. When it comes to daily newspapers, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung still has a media section tahat provides its readers with different topics connected to media and media technologies once a week.

  • All forms of press concentration in Switzerland
  • No private television stations on a national level but several stations on a regional level with a small audience and little commercial success
  • Intense competition in the press market due to the launch of several free papers

As mentioned before, all common forms of press concentration can be observed in Switzerland. The trend seems to be heading towards a two-tier newspaper landscape. Only a few high-circulation papers will serve the economic centres and the suburbs, meanwhile many small newspapers will have to fill the gaps, taking advantage of narrow local advertising and readership markets. In addition, cross-media concentration is also a fact. Big publishing houses have entered other media markets. Just to name one example, Tamedia has expanded its radio and television business in recent years, and acquired commercial regional radios and a regional TV channel.

The attempt to start a private television programme on a national level, however, has never succeeded. At the end of the twentieth century some private channels tried to establish national programmes, but without great success. Programme windows have proved commercially viable. Examples are SAT 1, a German channel which offers some Swiss programming, and the public broadcaster SF Schweizer Fernsehen lending airtime to “PresseTV” (PTV). One example of PTV is NZZ format, a programme of Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Its documentaries are dedicated to topics from science, technology, medicine and social life. They provide background information and address an up-market audience.

The status and public service remit of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR) are unchallenged. Its services are viewed as reliable and professional, and SRG SSR radio and TV stations are considered to be leaders in their fields.

Private TV programmes were able to assert themselves on the regional level, albeit with a small audience and little commercial success. They produce only a modest programme of a maximum three hours per day and fill the remaining hours with reruns. The revised Federal Radio and Television Law (RTVG) awards local TV stations 4 percent of SRG SSR licence-fee revenues on the condition of a regional public service remit.

For January 2011 SRG SSR is planning to merge public TV and public radio on the journalistic-editorial level in order to improve diversity, quality and productivity of the multimedia content. With this consolidation they expect to augment the temporal, local and topical access for the public. According to SRG this merger is in answer to the critical financial situation of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation as well as to the change in journalism and media consumption. SRG paraphrases its plans as taking its function as “journalistic beacon“ seriously.

Journalists and the public judge the aspired journalistic convergence quite sceptically. They fear a reduction of competition which will be leading to a reduction of journalistic diversity. The homogenisation of two different corporate cultures is considered to be neither functional nor practicable. Overall, the critics consider small autonomous entities to be more promising. A fundamental discussion on the role of the public core media seems to be inevitable and pressing.

The most dramatic change on the newspaper market happened in 1999. Two free-of-charge sheets were launched. At the time both were owned by foreign publishing houses and targeted commuters in the greater area of Zurich. 20 Minuten and Metropol intensified the competition among the newspapers in this area but also fought against each other. Eventually, in 2002, 20 Minuten prevailed and subsequently expanded to other urban regions all over the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Specific editions were made for the regions of Zurich, Berne, Lucerne, Basle and St. Gall. In succession, 20 Minuten prevailed different free sheets which tried to enter the market.

Since 2004, 20 Minuten is the most widely read daily newspaper in Switzerland, even surpassing the (former market leader) tabloid Blick. Since 2005, 20 Minuten is owned by Tamedia. 20 Minuten has also entered the French-speaking part of Switzerland: Tamedia launched its French counterpart, 20 minutes, in March 2006. In the greater area of Geneva and Lausanne 20 minutes competed with the free sheet Le Matin Bleu (Edipresse). In September 2009 and after the “merger” of Tamedia and Edipresse, Le Matin bleu was shut down.

Thus, 20 Minuten/20minutes is the undisputed market leader and only has to share the market of free sheets with Blick am Abend (Ringier) which is distributed in the late afternoon.

In the second quarter of 2009, 20 Minuten/20minutes managed to obtain a readership of 1.94 million people which means a scope of about 33 percent of the total readership in Switzerland.

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  • SRG SSR Geschäftsbericht 2008, Berne 2009.

Werner A. Meier
Institut für Publizistikwissenschaft und Medienforschung der Universität Zürich IPMZ
Andreasstrasse 15
8050 Zürich / Switzerland
Tel: 0041 44 634 46 96