In Swiss politics, anyone with enough support for a proposed piece of legislation can initiate a referendum.
That’s what happened recently over the issue of licence fees for the public broadcasters. A referendum to ditch the licence fee (collected by an agency called Bilag) was launched, using then slogan ‘No Bilag.’
The vote on the referendum took place last week and the Swiss public voted overwhelmingly (72%) against abolishing licence fees and in favour of supporting public broadcasting with their hip pocket.
Baken Walden from Swiss national radio told RadioDays that during the lead up to the vote, there was a huge campaign to support the case to ditch the licence fee, but that the public broadcaster was not allowed to spend any taxpayers money campaigning in favour of the licence fee position.
In the end the referendum was good news for public broadcasting, not just in Switzerland, but across all of Europe, wherever there is licence fee funding public broadcasters.
“As well as the good result, the referendum provoked us to re-engage with our audiences and really listen to them, so it has had many positive effects for us,” Walden told RadioDays.
The “No Billag” initiative divided the country along political and generational lines.
Rejection of the referendum to dump licence fees was “a strong sign for the public service and for private regional radio and television”, said Gilles Marchand, Director of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SSR).