Swiss newspapers say public broadcasting hurting them

Federal mailing subsidies for 2013 set


Patrick Chappatte cartoon that appeared on in 2009 (©2013 Chappatte, distributed by Globe Cartoon. More cartoons on Chappatte’s web site. Geneva-based Patrick Chappatte works for the International Herald Tribune, for Geneva newspaper Le Temps, and for NZZ am Sonntag. All cartoons reproduced with permission.)

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Newspaper will receive subsidies by the federal government for 2013 to send their papers through the mail, to the tune of 22 centimes a copy, Bern announced Wednesday 23 January. Non-profit groups and foundations will be helped with 15 centimes per copy for their newsletters. Indirect aid to the press costs the federal government CHF50 million a year and is designed to help newspapers fulfill their traditional role of informing citizens about political issues.

The government assistance helps defray mailing costs, but newspapers are struggling with a much larger financial issue, which is the steady drop in revenues, notably from advertising. Circulation numbers continue their decline.

Hanspeter Lebrument, president of the Swiss publishers association told the group at its annual gathering earlier this month that 2012 was “in every way unsatisfactory” and that if 2013 continues along the same lines it will be hard to see how the group’s members will be able to continue their work, and he said mergers are increasingly likely to be sought.

He pointed a finger firmly at Swiss public broadcasting, saying that newspapers must defend themselves firmly to keep market share as SRG/SSR moves into new areas, notably the Internet, that have been the domain of private media. He cited the example of the new German language SRF ((Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen) site, which he called “intolerable”, saying that the articles there must be shortened. As it stands, the site is essentially an online newspaper, he argued.

The subject of falling circulation was a hot one in 2006, when free newspapers appeared in Switzerland. Le Matin Bleu and 20 Minutes fought it out for three years but were folded together by the 2009 merger agreement of Edipresse and Tamedia. Since then 20 Minutes has remained by far the newspaper with the largest circulation. Free print newspapers may have hurried along the downward slide, but today, as with newspaper worldwide, the bigger challenge is from the internet and other digital developments such as the growth in news via mobile phones and free apps with information.

Circulation of selected major Swiss newspapers, 2006-2012

  • La Liberté, 2006 – 39,045 and 2012 – 38,733
  • Matin Dimanche, 2006 – 215,024 and 2012 – 160,999
  • Matin week, 2006 – 76,194 and 2012 – 55,299s
  • NZZ, 2006 – 146,729 and 2012 – 129,627
  • Le Temps, 2006 – 45,970 and 2012 – 41,531
  • Tages-Anzeiger, 2006 – 225,287 and 2012 – 188,602
  • Tribune de Genève, 2006 – 67,151 and 2012 – 48,688
  • 24 Heures, 2006 – 95,315 and 2012 – 71,957
  • 20 Minutes, 2012 – 495,211 (2006, both Le Matin Bleu and 20 Minutes had circulations of 500,000-plus)