State press and press freedom

At Bon Pour La Tête, we like it and we keep the discussion going. This article responds to Jacques Pilet’s, published in our January 14 edition.

I am thinking in particular of freedom of expression and pluralism of opinion, which this new system, if accepted, will not promote but will further reduce.

In fact, the system is designed in such a way that it will first benefit the largest press groups, in this case Ringier and Tamedia (renamed TX Groupe in 2020 to better please stock investors) that concentrate the largest circulations in the country and whose consolidated fortune has increased by 500 million since 2020 to rank 102 in Switzerland according to Bilan. By simple mechanical effect, its already extravagant superiority will be accentuated even more. The smallest, the associations, the non-profits that drag the devil by the tail, are delighted to receive the crumbs but they will be crushed even more by the giants.

Of course, the bill gives them a place, and that’s a good thing. This is not the case in countries like France, whose media are concentrated in the hands of a handful of oligarchs who accumulate the vast majority of state aid (three billion euros of direct and indirect aid per year). Le even fretted about it: “Never has a handful of billionaires had such a tight grip on the press,” it headlined France on January 17. That is to say. But Switzerland is no exception to the trend and I am not sure that the public, the readers, the voters, the democratic debate, the peripheral regions, will gain from this new provision.

Another argument, the diversity of opinions. The Covid crisis has shown for two years the painful uniformity of the media, its lack of criticism of government measures and the monopoly of power by medical and health elites. This growing unanimity of the media with respect to the authorities is an old phenomenon, prior to the crisis. But the latter revealed it brilliantly, the private media here making common cause with the RSS.

Each one will have their opinion on the vaccines, the FOPH, the cantonal measures, the health pass. But that is not the question. The crucial problem is the capacity of the press to play its role as a counterpower, as a fourth power against the other three, and to reflect the plurality of opinions that is characteristic of any democracy. And it is clear that this role, with some exceptions, has not been played.

On the contrary, the revelations of the Nebelspalter according to which the head of the Ringier group, Marc Walder, “advised” his entire editorial staff to transmit without discussion the positions of the FOPH and the Federal Council, prove that the larger groups are ready to give up your itchy hair feature for the sake of profit. This affair caused a scandal in German-speaking Switzerland and the chairman of the Ringier group overruled its director. But the damage has already been done and, in French-speaking Switzerland, no newspaper has commented on the matter, which shows well where the diversity of the press is in this part of the country.

Last observation: what do journalists do? If the editors bear their share of the responsibility, the journalists, who know how to praise the freedom of the press that is their own when denouncing the Chinese, Russian or Cuban dictatorships, are no less guilty. Why don’t they use it when no prison in Bern or Zurich threatens them? Defending Navalny and the Hong Kong Democrats is good. But being inspired by him to ask the same troubling questions of the authorities would be infinitely better. Especially when there is no risk.

All this worries: if a group as powerful as Ringier, whose flagship newspaper, the Blick, had us accustomed to more rudeness, lined up before the State before the February vote, what will happen next, when it comes to receiving federal subsidies? ? Will the media start to crawl? Make your way to Bern on your knees with great obeisances?

I’m afraid asking the question is answering it.

Waiting for our big and small publishers to recover, we can only advise you to read the apologies that the Danish Blick, the Ekstra Bladet, published in their January 7 editions. “We, the press, took stock of our work, and we failed,” admitted the newspaper, which acknowledges “having almost hypnotically absorbed the speeches” of the authorities during the two years of the Covid-19 crisis. (See the photo above, taken from a German newspaper.)

We might also suggest that you read the NGO Care report on the ten least publicized humanitarian crises of the year 2021 (Zambia, Ukraine, Malawi, Central African Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Burundi, Niger, Zimbabwe and Honduras). It thus appears that the famine that struck 1.2 million Zambians gave rise to a total of 512 articles in the international press (compared to 91,979 articles on the reunion of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez) and that the ten major crises that affected tens of millions of people gave rise to 19,146 articles, that is, 12 times less than the space flights of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and 184 times less than the 3.5 million articles dedicated to the Tokyo Olympics. (See Marie Astier, “The Media’s Ten Forgotten Humanitarian Crises,” in Reporterre, January 18, 2022.)

Shouldn’t something like a slight revision of the sense of priorities be done?

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