Overall, Switzerland offers a highly safe and protective environment for reporters, yet journalism now finds itself in a weakened state. One reason is voters’ rejection, by referendum, of a stronger subsidy system for the media. Another is an unprecedented level of violence by demonstrators protesting public health measures.
The Swiss media landscape is marked by a strong public broadcasting network, SR-SRG, and a traditionally very diverse print media sector. But the latter has been affected, for the past several years, by a strong concentration of ownership linked to a digital transformation. In French-speaking Switzerland, the leading papers are 24 heures, Tribune de Genève, Le Temps and La Liberté. In German-speaking Switzerland, the leaders are Blick, Tages-Anzeiger, NeueZürcher Zeitung and Basler Zeitung.
Swiss journalists are sheltered from political pressure despite the proximity maintained by some media with certain political parties. Public service broadcasting, in particular, has strong safeguards against political interference in programming.
While journalists work in a legal and regulatory environment marked by overall respect for freedom of the press, the courts, on occasion, are reluctant to fully apply the case law on freedom of the press of the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, parliament seems to be in favour of toughening “provisional measures” that allow a civil judge to order the immediate, temporary suspension of a journalistic publication.
The traditionally highly diverse Swiss press has seen a strong increase in ownership concentration in recent years. This trend is felt most notably in the local press, where several publications have disappeared or have been bought by large press groups. While parliament approved a major increase of public subsidies to the media, public opinion on this decision was mixed and the proposal was rejected in a referendum.
Actions by some social movements can strengthen cultural trends that encourage forms of censorship or self-censorship. For example, in 2021, anti-racist, feminist and LGBTQ+ activists called for some media outlets to withdraw content, especially of a satirical nature. In one case, such a demand allegedly led to material damage of a media outlet’s company cars – an attempt at intimidation.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, journalists have regularly been confronted by activists opposed to public health measures. This trend began in the fall of 2020. In some cases, these challenges took the form of insults, threats and even physical assaults on journalists.