The rapper Stress, singer Stephan Eicher and numerous composers, directors, actors, writers, theatremakers and dancers have published an online statement “defending cultural diversity in Switzerland” which they say would be threatened if the popular initiative passed at referendum on March 4th.
‘No Billag' calls for the abolition of Switzerland's annual licence fee for public service radio and television, known as Billag, which currently costs 451 francs per household.
Currently, Billag helps fund 34 regional television and radio stations around the country, as well as SSR, the Swiss broadcasting corporation, which is mandated by the government to produce television and radio news and other public service programming in each of the country's four language regions.
The popular initiative calls for the government to stop subsidizing any broadcaster, meaning if passed, all radio and television stations in Switzerland would have to fund themselves through advertising, sponsorship or other means.
Those in favour say abolishing Billag would lead to greater competition and freedom in broadcasting, and would allow the media to function independently, enabling criticism of the government without fear of losing funding.
Cutting Billag would also stop the “exorbitant salaries” and bonuses of top SSR executives, and boost the economy since households would be 451 francs better off, says the initiative's website.
“If a demand for their diverse programmes exists, SSR won't have trouble being successful enough to continue to exist,” say the initiants.
However the government, which is urging the public to reject the initiative, says forcing broadcasters to rely on private funds would make them more dependent, not independent.
No Billag would reduce the amount and diversity of programming and potentially threaten the very existence of certain broadcasters including SSR, the government says.
And that would be disastrous for cultural programming in Switzerland, say the more than 6,200 artists and 50 arts organizations who have issued a statement defending public service broadcasting.
Since channels funded only by advertising don't broadcast nearly as much Swiss music as the SSR and other licence fee-funded broadcasters, No Billag “not only threatens freedom of expression but also Swiss cultural traditions,” says the statement.
If there was no Billag, “programmes dedicated to classical, folk, jazz and rock music would no longer exist,” they say.
“The SSR isn't perfect and public service is a subject that merits more discussion. We, as culture-makers, want to be part of these discussions... To do that we need a negotiating partner with a public mandate, meaning media financed by a licence fee,” concludes the statement.
Contacted by Swiss news agency ATS, the president of the No Billag committee Nicolas Jutzet countered the artists' statement, saying the initiative was no threat to culture.
“I don't see why programming should change as long as the Swiss public appreciate the music and cultural content currently on offer.”
In fact, No Billag would present an opportunity to artists who don't want to collaborate with SSR, he said.
“We are not attacking culture, we are addressing an outdated financing system that favours certain people,” he said.
The public will vote on March 4th.