"We can't be bought"

"We can't be bought"

In an interview, Roger de Weck talks about the SRG's public service mandate, its political independence and what prompted the advertising alliance with Swisscom and Ringier.

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Roger de Weck

Roger de Weck, Director General of the SRG

How is the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG) reacting to changes in consumers’ media consumption habits?

You’ll find us wherever the audience is: on the Internet and in the channels. Nowadays the small display on my smartphone is just as important as the large screen on my TV. The goal is to have an online offer that is similarly attractive to our radio and TV offerings – despite the fact that we don’t have as much experience online and competition there is even more fierce: because there are a lot more providers and because global audiovisual providers are overly powerful. YouTube and Netflix can afford to spend billions.

Is this competition – perceived as overly powerful – one of the reasons behind the new advertising alliance with Swisscom and Ringier?

For many years, most Swiss media companies had no idea what international competition meant; foreign newspapers and magazines at kiosks weren’t any serious competitors. Swisscom, Ringier and the SRG, on the other hand, are communication and media enterprises that faced the challenges of globalization at an early stage. From the very start, Michael Ringier recognized the opportunities this presented and expanded his media company to Eastern Europe, Asia and now Africa. Swisscom experienced hefty competition from WhatsApp which impacted its SMS business, for instance. Paradoxically, SRG as a national media company is mentally well-equipped for internationalization: For decades now, we have been asserting ourselves in the television industry where we are up against strong foreign channels commanding more than 60 percent of the Swiss market. And this market share is measured every 30 seconds, 24 hours a day!

How do you respond to criticism that the SRG is neglecting its public service mandate?

Everybody talks about television, I also like talking about radio – there are more listeners than viewers, anyway. Almost nobody complains that radio is neglecting its public service duties. This criticism is directed at a few individual television shows that help us earn the loyalty of a broad audience. We do, however, rely on entertainment shows that differ from those seen on German, French and Italian channels and will differ even more strongly in the future. These shows also incorporate even more cultural or educational aspects. One prime example of this is the “SRF bi de Lüt” show, which translates roughly to “SRF among the people”: This show portrays a small village and highlights its cultural life, history and important structures. Something no commercial channel would do. It would be absurd, though, to insist that each and every show has to differ from those offered by private broadcasters. Then we would never be able to broadcast any talk shows, weather forecasts or hourly news on the radio. What has to differ is the program as a whole, and it does so quite clearly.

Would you prefer it if politicians defined more narrow guidelines?

Given that the SRG is the subject of the regulations, it shouldn’t mess with the regulatory authority’s work: An agent also aspiring to be the principal will never achieve the desired results.

After last year’s close vote in favor of the new Radio and Television Act, the “No Billag Initiative” has now materialized, as well: How does the SRG intend to solidify the trust of the people of Switzerland?

That was a referendum on a new system of fees along with all of its advantages and disadvantages, not a vote for or against the SRG. The “No Billag Initiative” is different: To be honest, it should actually be called the “No SRG Initiative”. If approved, Switzerland would no longer have a public media company, just private broadcasters. As a company – with a parent association established under private law – we will engage in a dialog with voters to explain what it means to be a public media company: The SRG’s major internal financial equalization system ensures that the French-speaking, Italian-speaking and Romansh-speaking parts of Switzerland can also enjoy high-quality radio and television. Plus: Nine out of ten SRG shows would be a losing proposition for private broadcasters because the high costs of good shows cannot be recouped on Switzerland’s small, quadrilingual market; the advertising income is nowhere near enough, and that holds true for sports, too. What’s more, the SRG promotes Swiss and folk culture. Every year we invest CHF 40 million in the Swiss movie-making industry and to support music and literature. No private media company would be capable of doing that. Last but not least, we guarantee independent reporting that is not influenced by political or business lobbies: We can’t be bought!

As the Director General of the SRG, how do you deal with the challenges presented by a decentralized and extremely federalist structure?

Contrary to most media companies, we were able to keep costs in check during the digital revolution. Over the past five or six years, we’ve also been working determinedly to harmonize, standardize and, where needed, centralize our infrastructures; this has allowed us to shift 12 percent of our budget from administration to the program. It’s obvious, though, that we want to remain a quintessentially federalist media company in this federalist country – with strong roots in every part of the country and every region.

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