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Referendum: Swiss set to stand behind embattled public broadcaster

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Referendum: Swiss set to stand behind embattled public broadcaster
Photo: Depositphotos
10:52 CET+01:00
Swiss voters look set to reject a motion to scrap the country’s compulsory radio and television licence fee in the upcoming March 4th referendum, poll results show.

Almost two out of three voters (65 percent) say they will vote against a proposal to do away with the fee, according to the survey commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) – the Swiss equivalent of the BBC – and conducted by Berne-based pollsters Gfs.

That means support for the initiative has dropped five percent since the last SBS poll run in January.

A second new poll run by Tamedia, publishers of Swiss daily the Tages-Anzeiger, also shows a clear majority against the initiative although the margin is a narrower 58 percent against and 37 percent in favour.

The controversial initiative to scrap the so-called Billag licence fee, which provides some 75 percent of funding for the SBC with the remainder coming from advertising, has been given the nod by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and the Swiss Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises.

Arguments for and against

Supporters of the plan to ditch the compulsory licence fee which costs 451 Swiss francs per household per year argue people should be able to choose how they want to spend their money, and that doing away with the Billag fee will free up 1.37 billion francs a year for consumer spending.

They also argue that the SBC would gain greater political independence if it did not depend on the levying of fees.

But opponents of the initiative – a group that includes the Swiss government, all the major parties in the Swiss parliament except for the SVP, and around 6,000 artists – believe it will threaten the very existence of the SBC.

They say the SBC will not be able to fund its range of programming through advertising alone and that media diversity could be jeopardized.

Opponents also argue that regional broadcasters in less central areas of the country would be particularly hard hit as they would struggle to find advertisers.

Death threats

The debate over the possible scrapping of the Billag fee has been heated in Switzerland. Both supporters and opponents of the motion were threatened on Twitter after SBC political talk show Arena held a debate on the issue in early February.

In the wake of the program, one Twitter user wrote to Arena presenter Jonas Projer saying “We will come in the middle of the night and sort you out” over his perceived bias against the initiative during the show.

Meanwhile, another Twitter user said the “entire family” of initiative supporter Oliver Kessel “should be burned”.

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