March 4, 2018 / 1:05 PM / 7 months ago

Switzerland set to retain licence fee for broadcaster

ZURICH, March 4 (Reuters) - Swiss citizens appeared on Sunday to have clearly rejected an attempt to abolish fees for state radio and TV in a vote seen as protecting public service broadcasting in the country.

Had the proposal passed, Switzerland would have been the first European country to abolish mandatory licence fees for its public service broadcaster.

Seventy-one percent voted against the proposal to scrap the so-called Billag fees in a referendum under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, according to a results projection by gfs.bern for Swiss broadcaster SRF.

Every household pays a 451 Swiss franc ($480.8) annual charge to fund Swiss public broadcasters. Their budgets faced being cut by three quarters if the vote had been successful.

Campaigners against the fee argued state broadcaster SRG had become too large and must save money. They also said that charging fees had become outmoded, especially in an era of streaming services such as Netflix.

“At present we have a near monopoly with a state-contorolled broadcasting company. But by cutting down the subsidy it receives, a freer market for the media will exist in Switzerland,” said Florian Maier, secretary general of the No Billag campaign.

Opponents had said abolition would lead to reduced independence for broadcasters and undermine services for Switzerland’s four different linguistic regions.

“If we are not in a position to properly cover political and citizen’s issues in the national languages, the country won’t be doing well,” Gilles Marchand, director general of the SRG, told Reuters.

The Swiss government had opposed the proposal, saying it threatened media diversity and would damage political debate in the country of 8.4 million people.

In a second vote on Sunday, 83 percent of voters looked set to extend the government’s right to levy income and sales taxes to 2035, according to results projections.

Unlike other countries, Switzerland gives the central government the right to raise taxes only for a limited time, with the current arrangement due to finish at the end of 2020. ($1 = 0.9380 Swiss francs) (additional reporting by Cecile Mantovani Editing by Keith Weir)

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