GENEVA — Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a government’s plan to inject more than 150 million francs (about $163 million) into broadcast and print media every year, including support for early-morning newspaper delivery and online media to the tune of 70 million francs (nearly $76 million) a year, according to exit polls.
Some 56% of voters rejected the measure, public broadcaster SRF reported.
Opponents of the plan, which had been passed by Swiss lawmakers in June, had pulled together enough signatures in a petition to put the issue before the public, part of Switzerland’s particular form of democracy that gives voters in the country of 8.5 million a direct say in policymaking.
Foes of the plan had said the cash injection would waste taxpayer money, benefit big newspaper chains and the media moguls who run them and hurt journalistic independence by making media outlets more dependent on state handouts and thus less likely to criticize public officials. They also said it was discriminatory, since free newspapers wouldn’t benefit.
“A media subsidized by the state is a media under control. As the adage goes: ‘Don’t bit the hand that feeds you,’” wrote the opponents who pressed for the referendum. They say big print-media groups together took in more than 300 million in profits in 2020, even during the COVID-19 crisis.
Many other countries in Europe and beyond offer support to newspapers through postal fee discounts, tax breaks and other measures.
Supporters of the cash injection had countered that journalism, especially in local areas ill-served by big media groups, should be considered a public service, as are many public radio and television broadcasters in Switzerland, around Europe.
“Media groups are fighting to survive. Ad revenues for print press haven’t stopped declining or are getting swallowed up by giants like Facebook and Google, and subscriptions aren’t enough,” the Swiss Green party, which supported the measure, had argued before the vote.
Proponents said more than 70 papers have disappeared since 2003. Advertising revenue in all print publications plunged 42% between 2016-2020 in Switzerland.