On Saturday, February 3rd Swiss radio and TV studios across the country will open their doors to the public to explain how they work and why it’s important to reject the upcoming NoBillag initiative. On March 4th Swiss citizens will decide through a national vote whether to abolish the media reception fee, previously collected through the company Billag (hence the initiative’s name “NoBillag”).
The current Swiss media system is comprised of public service, private and community media, each sector with its specific functions and roles. The yearly media reception fee does not only fund public service, but also 34 local TV and radio stations distributed across all 4 language regions. Of these, 9 radio stations are federated in the national association UNIKOM – Union of non-commercial radios – and fulfil the functions of community media. The sector is defined by Article 36 of the Swiss broadcast law (RTVG) as ‘complementary’ to public service and private broadcasting. Its main tasks are to provide open access to media production facilities and training, to produce local, diverse and complementary cultural content and to operate on a non-profit basis. Thousands of volunteers, including citizens with a migrant background, are actively involved in production and management of UNIKOM radio stations, with programs aired in more than 25 languages and with specific intercultural, multilingual training formats in place.
Local and non-commercial broadcasting would not survive without the financial contributions it receives today. The consequences of abolishing such a model would endanger diversity, pluralism and freedom of information and would also make Switzerland the only European country without public service media.