Swiss media’s culpability in the anti-immigration vote

February 11, 2014 • Media and Politics • by

Switzerland’s decision this weekend to vote in favour of imposing quotas on the numbers of newcomers into the country has caused uproar across Europe, and within the country.

Germany’s Ralf Stegner, deputy chairman of the centre left SPD party, tweeted out a frank response: “Those Swiss are crazy” as the results of the anti-immigration referendum were announced on Sunday.

But before joining in the chorus of disapproval about the Swiss vote, and the Swiss population in general, we should note two salient facts.

First of all, Switzerland is a country with an exceptionally high number of foreigners: Almost one quarter of the alpine republic’s population, namely 23,2 percent are foreign. In Germany, by contrast, foreigners make up around 10 percent of the population. It is not a pleasant thought, but it is entirely feasible to believe that a similar vote in Germany would yield a similar result, if there were twice as many foreigners in the country as there are today.

Secondly, two institutes for media research had already found – independently from one another – that the Swiss vote was influenced by an important player, the Swiss media. Of course the media did not as a whole openly and explicitly support the right wing populist SVP’s campaign to stop the “mass immigration”. Quite the contrary: the majority of the press naturally counts itself part of “cosmopolitan” Switzerland – and thus part of the elite who believe the country owes its prosperity in a globalized economy at least in part to the foreigners in the country.

Regardless, according to the Research Institute for the Public Sphere and Society of Zurich University, the right populist initiative has received encouragement not only from the biggest newspaper by far, the free sheet 20 Minutes, but also from the Tages-Anzeiger, a usually left liberal publication known for its seriousness. According to the researchers, the “’horse race journalism’ in which the reporting of campaign strategies is considered more important than reporting the exchange of arguments”, has also contributed to the final slim victory.

Additionally, the Swiss research institute Media Tenor points out that much media coverage, especially in the major television news, presents foreigners “primarily as problems” to the “sovereign”, thus making “any decision in favor of the foreigners a surprise”. Media Tenor analyzed the presence and rating of foreigners in Swiss television news since 2006. It concluded: “more than 80 percent of all reports even mentioning foreigners were solely centered on asylum laws or immigration issues.” Based on that, the Swiss people had no chance to “learn from the media about the real changes foreigners have made to Swiss everyday life.”

It points out that barely any hospitals could function “without the non-Swiss” and “research and education between St. Gallen and Geneva would be unthinkable without the contribution of scientists from Europe, America, Africa and Asia.” These points, sadly, were rarely made in the media, and the consequences are now plain to see.

This text was  published by Tagesspiegel on Feb. 11 2014 and translated by Max Rogall.

Photo credit: Martin Abegglen / Flickr Cc

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