Radio Television Swiss (RTS), the French language arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, plans to discontinue three religious programmes by 2017. According to a spokesman the decision was taken for cost-cutting reasons. A group of cross-party politicians, academics and civic leaders has protested that the decision was taken without consultation or debate and has demanded a reverse. The group also established an online petition that had gained over 4,000 signatures by Thursday evening.
Ian McDonald, Minister of the English-speaking Scots Kirk in Lausanne said “The RTS decision to discontinue religious broadcasting closes a door on the provision of reasonable and responsible balanced news coverage and analysis of world events, whether expressed in religious terms or otherwise. We are better served by having the freedom to speak and to share what will always be a spectrum of opinion.”
Over the centuries Swiss communities have fought numerous religious wars both within and outside the country. Successfully ending and avoiding religious conflicts is one of the essential pillars of “Swissness”. Religious rights and the promotion of religious beliefs have historically been intensely debated and controlled in Switzerland to the point that inter-faith tensions have virtually disappeared. Controls have taken the form of restrictions on publicly promoting any single faith over another be it in advertising, publishing, broadcasting or even physically (pastors and priests are usually not permitted to wear religious garments in public). Nevertheless, the freedom to practice faith has been a strongly protected universal right.
“It’s an incomprehensible decision,” Abbé Francois-Xavier Amherdt, Professor of Theology at Fribourg University told the newspaper Le Temps.
RTS responded saying “Announcements of our cost cutting regarding religious programmes have triggered much concern. We understand these concerns and would like to state that we do not intend to abandon this content. Dealing with religious questions to nurture societal debate, aid understanding of current challenges and to promote social cohesion, is an important element of our public service mission. Religious programmes are regrettably not the only broadcasts to be affected by these measures. Half of the budget dedicated to them will be retained. In addition, religious questions and their political, cultural and social dimensions as well as ethical and philosophical themes will continue to be discussed in different programmes on the radio, television and on the web.”
RTS is the French-speaking arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC/SRG/SSR – English/German/French). RTS has its headquarters in Geneva, while the parent, SBC, is based in Bern. The group receives most of its funding from annual licence fees, collected by Billag, with the remainder coming from advertising and sponsorship. According RTS’s website, it employs close to 1,600 people, has an annual budget of CHF 393 million, and provides programmes for Switzerland’s 1.9 million French-speaking residents.
By Jeremy McTeague
Jeremy McTeague is a communications specialist, and a speaker and writer on conflict resolution.