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Title: The invisible scissors : media freedom and censorship in Switzerland
Author: Hochli, Marc
ISNI:       0000 0004 2689 9907
Awarding Body: Brunel University
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2010
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At first glance, the very idea of analysing the freedom of the media and of researching censorship in Switzerland seems absurd. After all, the Federal Constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of the media, and censorship is forbidden. Furthermore, this small, federal, multilingual and multicultural landlocked country in the middle of Europe is universally praised as a model of democracy. Indeed, in a country whose people have a far greater say in government than anywhere else, one could easily assume that the freedom of the media is a foregone conclusion. Yet, in reality, this shining image is more than a little tarnished. The "Prototype for Europe" – as the former Federal President of Germany Richard von Weizsäcker once described Switzerland – experiences the same forms and mechanisms of censorship as any other democratic country. Of course, in Switzerland "undesirable" journalists are not threatened with murder, but critically discerning authors do risk becoming social outcasts. Switzerland prohibits governmental pre-censorship, but the advertising industry has on occasion attempted to shape the content of the media by means of post-publication censorship in the form of boycotts. Switzerland is a constitutional state, yet the paragraphs of its penal and civil codes hang over media workers like the sword of Damocles. Then there are structural problems such as the lack of proper journalistic education. However one looks at it, the freedom of the media in Switzerland is officially, materially and structurally restricted. However, most people remain unconcerned by and indeed unaware of this state of affairs. Thomas Jefferson's reminder that, "to preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement”*, has long been forgotten in Switzerland. The Swiss appear to be basking in their country’s reputation as a place without media problems. It therefore came as no surprise to us when, both in our quantitative and qualitative research, many of those interviewed were surprised and even irritated at our 2 questions about possible threats to freedom of the media in Switzerland. Some people even felt that they were being personally attacked and responded along the lines that "Instead of fouling our own nest we ought to describe the advantages of our country and our democratic system". Or: "In comparison with Russia or China we are living in a paradise": It seems that only the most critical among the media personnel, media experts and media scientists are willing to pinpoint the problems faced by the contemporary Swiss media. All the others are convinced that we have the best media on earth. This attitude of part indifference, part ignorance and part wishful thinking, was the catalyst for our research on the freedom of the Swiss media and the potential dangers and mechanisms which threaten it. Our findings reveal that all that glitters is not gold and that the Swiss media scene is, in some ways, reminiscent of a Potemkin village. *Jefferson, Thomas, Letter to William Green Mumford, 18 June 1799 (, consulted 15 June 2006)
Supervisor: Petley, J. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Media freedom in the model democracy of Switzerland ; Censorship threatens Switzerland ; Forms and mechanisms of censorship ; Media problems as seismograph ; Threats to the ideals of Enlightenment