Bargain and scourge of the media for direct democracy

Leuenberger is not a heavy user of social media. But the former Minister of Communications believes in their creative force and the common sense of citizens keystone

Is Swiss-style democracy threatened because the country’s media are increasingly global, superficial, commercial and user-generated? The former Swiss Minister of Communication believes in creative responses to challenges.

This content was published on October 29, 2016 – 09:00

swissinfo.ch

Moritz Leuenberger was invited by the University of Bern to a discussion on the evolution of the media and their impact on direct democracy. He identified several major factors at play: the growing role of social media, the dramatic loss of advertising revenue and a tendency towards simplification, emotions and personal antagonism.

In some cases, Leuenberger argues that these elements – often from the United States – are incompatible with the Swiss political system of consensus, compromise, respect for minorities and citizen engagement both in politics – via voting. and elections – and in society through volunteer work. .

But the media are one of the pillars of Switzerland’s political and social system, providing information, raising awareness and helping to form opinions, he said.


Full house for Leuenberger in an auditorium at the University of Bern swissinfo.ch

“By reporting on different positions, the media make convincing contributions to the discourse of direct democracy. Without the media, citizens risk losing their personal responsibility.

Irony

Leuenberger also supplemented his observations with a good dose of irony and criticism. He pointed out that the editors of the respected Neue Zürcher Zeitung “sell tote bags” to boost their finances and that most of the Swiss media appear to have become increasingly dominant in their reporting.

He also questioned why consumers, including himself, allowed online news providers to bombard them with more or less irrelevant push alerts, and responded with a slight shrug.

The 70-year-old politician, who resigned in 2010 after 15 years as a member of the Swiss government, maintained a blogExternal link when he was still in office.

“I was surprised at the interesting comments from readers at the start,” he said. But he gave up after four years as it became too long and uninspiring to continue the effort.

At the roundtable earlier this month, Leuenberger did not spare his successor as Minister of Transport, Energy, Environment and Communications. He notably criticized Doris Leuthard for not appearing before the media in October to defend the public Swiss Broadcasting – the parent company of swissinfo.ch – against attacks from the political right and center.

Confidence

It wasn’t all pessimistic though. Leuenberger is convinced that new ideas will help meet the challenges of the media industry.

Media and Democracy

Leuenberger’s speech opened a series of discussions at the University of BernExternal link in October and November on the evolution of the media and their impact on direct democracy.

Other speakers include scientists, representatives of large media companies, including the Managing Director of SBC, editors, as well as representatives of a major political party and the Federal Office of Communications.

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He distinguished a German language business information platform, WatsonExternal link, for its creative approach to information and entertainment, the Smartvote websiteExternal link for citizens seeking advice before elections or public polls and television series that indirectly contribute to the creation of political awareness.

Leuenberger called for increased transparency on the hidden business or political agendas of media industry players to prevent manipulation of citizens. It is crucial that the media be a credible and trustworthy source, even more so in a system of direct democracy, he said.

As for the role of the state in financial support for the media, Leuenberger remains skeptical. But he recognizes the important task of state-funded schools and other educational institutions in promoting civil conscience.

Optimist Pessimist ?

At the end of the evening, there was no consensus in the audience on Leuenberger’s answer to the question on the role of the media.

He has heard critics describe him as both a cynical pessimist and an optimist.

Leuenberger himself referred to history and the 19e century, the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.

“Tolstoy said that the press is terrible. But look at us today, we’re still alive.

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