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)


HBO website and comedian John Oliver censored in China

Updated 24 June 2018
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HBO website and comedian John Oliver censored in China

  • After mocking censors working over time to delete comparisons of President Xi Jinping with the cartoon bear, comedian John Oliver and now the website of TV giant HBO have fallen victim to China’s censorship machine
  • HBO joins a long list of Western media outlets that have had their websites blocked in China including The New York Times, Facebook, and Twitter

BEIJING: It was one Winnie the Pooh joke too far.
After mocking censors working over time to delete comparisons of President Xi Jinping with the cartoon bear, comedian John Oliver and now the website of TV giant HBO have fallen victim to China’s censorship machine.
Chinese authorities blocked HBO’s website in China, just days after Oliver took Xi to task, anti-censorship and monitoring group GreatFire.org said on Saturday.
HBO joins a long list of Western media outlets that have had their websites blocked in China including The New York Times, Facebook, and Twitter.
“China: the country responsible for huge technological advances but it still can’t seem to get pandas to f***,” Oliver opened the episode of “Last Week Tonight” that is causing the problems.
Those technological advances include draconian surveillance and censorship measures which appear to have made HBO and Oliver their latest victims.
Oliver’s name and that of the show he hosts were censored on China’s popular twitter like Weibo.
“Send failure” Weibo returned when AFP attempted to post Oliver’s name.
“Content is illegal!” the service said.
YouTube, which also airs “Last Week Tonight,” has long been blocked in China.
Oliver’s segment dug into Xi’s distaste at comparisons to the self-described “bear of very little brain” and introduced viewers to repressive changes underway in the world’s most populous country.
Chinese netizens have often compared Xi to A.A. Milne’s most famous creation, something that censors have been quick to purge inside the Great Firewall.
The segment also recounted recent headlines: from Xi becoming “emperor for life” to a corruption purge that targeted his political rivals, to a crackdown on freedom of expression, human rights, and religion, to an ongoing suppression and imprisonment campaign against China’s Uighur ethnic minority.
“Xi is actively removing the post-Mao guardrails that were put in place,” Oliver said of changes to China’s constitution which allow him to remain in power indefinitely.
“China is becoming more authoritarian just as it has major plans for expansion onto the world stage,” Oliver said as the segment neared an end.
“The era of do as we say may be dawning.”