Switzerland vote to retain license fee for state broadcaster

Member of the Council of States Filippo Lombardi, Joachim Eder, member of the Council of States and National Councillor Edith Graf-Litscher, from left, react after the first projections concerning the No Billag initiative, on Sunday, in Bern. (AP)
Updated 05 March 2018
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Switzerland vote to retain license fee for state broadcaster

ZURICH: Swiss citizens clearly rejected an attempt to abolish fees for state radio and TV in a referendum vote on Sunday seen as protecting public service broadcasting in the country.
Had the proposal passed, Switzerland would have been the first European country to abolish mandatory license fees for its public service broadcaster.
Nearly 72 percent voted against the proposal to scrap the so-called Billag fees in a referendum under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.
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.
Communications minister Doris Leuthard said she was pleased Swiss voters had shown they were prepared to pay a fee for public services and did not want purely commercial broadcasting.
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 divided into four different language groups.
“Radio and television in Switzerland should also in the future contribute to education, cultural development, forming opinions as well as entertainment,” she told a news conference. “I am pleased that media diversity has been maintained.”
Broadcasters should continue to serve all Swiss, Leuthard added.
Opponents had said abolishing the fee would lead to reduced independence for broadcasters and undermine services for Switzerland’s four different linguistic regions.
Campaigners against the fee had argued that state broadcaster SRG was 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-controlled 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.
In a second vote on Sunday, 84.1 percent of voters approved extending the government’s right to levy income and sales taxes to 2035.
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)


Google staff discussed ways to fight Trump travel ban: WSJ

A Google logo in an office building in Zurich September 5, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Google staff discussed ways to fight Trump travel ban: WSJ

  • An email from an employee of the Search Product Marketing division referred to brainstorming inside Google over how to respond to ban

WASHINGTON: Google employees discussed how to counter President Donald Trump’s 2017 travel ban by modifying search functions to help people contribute to immigration advocacy groups and contact lawmakers, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
They began the email discussion two days after Trump signed the first version of his travel ban targeting people from seven mainly Muslim countries, the paper reported.
Staff discussed how to tweak search functions and work against “islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc.,” the Journal reported.
They looked at similar measures for the search terms ‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc.”
An email from an employee of the Search Product Marketing division referred to brainstorming inside Google over how to respond to ban.
Trump’s controversial measure was challenged in court and underwent several iterations before ultimately being upheld by the US Supreme Court.
The report is certain to anger Trump, who has accused Google of blocking conservative viewpoints in its search results.
Google told the Journal that none of the ideas discussed were ever implemented.
“Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology — not in the current campaign season, not during the 2016 election, and not in the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order on immigration,” it said in a statement.
“Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies,” it added.
Google was among 100 tech companies that filed a friend-of-the-court brief in February 2017 challenging the travel ban as harmful to US “business, innovation and growth.”