WRSThe Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SSR) has announced a wide review of all of its internet platforms, radio and television stations across Switzerland. The oldest English language radio with national broadcasting, World Radio Switzerland (WRS), finds itself in a peculiar situation. While the review process is projected to take place over the next seven months, WRS has already been threatened with either closure or privatization. The key argument invoked by the head of SSR is that WRS should no longer be funded by public money since it operates in English, a non-official language of the Swiss Confederation. The Global Journal tried to clarify the reasons behind the decision that has shaken Switzerland’s international community.

Mark Butcher, a long-term WRS host and recent founder and director of Radio Frontier, is convinced that the decision taken by the SSR is entirely motivated by financial constraints.

“At the moment the SSR has to save a lot of money as the funding from license fees has been frozen. Therefore, they need to make savings and they say that WRS is one of the stations they need to chop. It is a totally financial decision. They are trying to save money with the least political pain.”

Considering the substantial presence of foreigners in the Geneva canton, Mr. Butcher emphasizes the need for Geneva to have a vibrant English language radio station. According to him, Radio Frontier is perfectly suited to fulfill this role since it is a private organization not funded by tax payers.

The chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi Switzerland and outspoken media observer Pedro Simko adheres to the view that not only Geneva, but the whole of Switzerland, is bound to lose from the closure of the WRS, a national media platform.   

“It is a completely short-sighted decision and a monstrously erroneous argument that WRS is not in one of our national languages. But beyond that, the role of WRS is to help a very large ex-pat community to integrate into Switzerland. And Switzerland lives from the very important relationship that we have with that community. Without WRS I think we are losing an opportunity to acquire some of these companies, which is the foundation of our economy.”

The final outcome remains to be seen, even though it appears that a decision to close the WRS would be equally disappointing for its staff and dedicated listeners. The latter have already begun generating comments and ideas on a dedicated web page.  Ex-pat James Moffat explains why Switzerland needs to continue broadcasting in English. 

“If we all want to have freedom of speech, true democracy and integration, surely having an English language radio station provides a great number of both foreigners and Swiss nationals the opportunity to communicate in one common language. After all, the Swiss themselves have great trouble internally with the four official languages, let alone the multiple dialects that impose yet another challenge. Closing down any radio station that provides the value that residents want is shameful, but when it is such an important part of integration for newcomers, or short contracts in Switzerland, and one that gives us all the ability to learn and understand more about Switzerland and what is happening in the country we live in, it’s also saddening.”

SSR was not available for comment on its decision concerning the WRS radio station.   

(Photo © WRS)