SRG SSR on fostering citizen’s political participation

18th October 2023
As the federal elections are approaching in Switzerland, SRG SSR implemented strategies to foster the civic and political engagement of citizens.
The offices of SRG SSR in Bern. Credit: SRG SSR

– By Charlotte Pion

On 22 October, Swiss people will head to the polls for the Swiss federal elections. In a participatory democracy like Switzerland, where the population is called upon several times a year to state their opinion or vote, the role of public service media is crucial. What does SRG SSR do to enhance the political participation of Swiss citizens for the upcoming federal elections?

The political role of public media comes under scrutiny in times of elections, because of their role in educating citizens about the choices at the ballot box. By providing vital context – balanced and impartial – they allow people to vote fully informed.

Read more: Public Service Media’s contribution to Society (Report)

As Switzerland is a participatory democracy, it becomes even more important for people to have an active role in political and civic life. SRG SSR takes seriously the task of engaging people to fulfil their role as citizens.

Present snapshot and a look to the future

At a time when the public has moved away from traditional media, the Director of the News and Sports Departments at RTS (the French-language Swiss public broadcaster), Christophe Chaudet said the upcoming federal elections presented a great opportunity for the editorial teams of traditional media to “outline perspectives and open up horizons for the development of the country”.

Adopting a forward-looking perspective, with initiatives that propose solutions to contemporary challenges, can be a strategy to enhance the political engagement of people and their way of staying informed through public media. “Ultimately, we need to make our media a place for reassuring discussion: reinvesting in national dialogue and responding to the fragmentation of communities by inviting public and civic debate” stressed Mr. Chaudet.

In order to give such a picture and propose these solutions, SRG SSR launched a major study in collaboration with academics to scrutinise the current state of the country. The study found that Switzerland is facing many divisions that are “rooted in sectoral intransigence”. To address this, SRG SSR focussed on the country’s linguistic regions and social groups by creating editorial bridges between communities.

By taking into account the perspectives of the four different linguistic communities of Switzerland (German, French, Italian and Romansh), they promote and instigate a better mutual understanding of the country in general. As Mr. Chaudet pointed out, “we need to reinvest in national dialogue and respond to the fragmentation of communities by inviting public and civic debate.”

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For who to vote?

A major part of covering the elections and informing citizens of the panel of choice they have, is by talking about the parties and their agenda through the different channels of the public service media to reach the public and create a national debate. As such, federal elections are covered on TV, on radio as well as through their own platforms and social media. 

SRG SSR already provides an unparalleled service in the media sector, as each of Switzerland’s four language groups have their own independent public service media organisation, providing and producing content in their own language.

Mr. Chaudet explained to PMA that every channel produced its own specific programme, covering the federal elections, presenting the candidates, exploring the major issues that are shaking up the electoral campaign, and documenting the political parties’ perspectives and positions or pointing out their differences. On their digital platforms, they also offered a guide to help people discover their political profile through a set of questions and answers. In addition to these programmes, SRG launched an unprecedented nationwide survey into the lifestyles, habits and concerns of the Swiss population, inland and abroad. On 23 August, the SRG media organised a national theme day to unveil the results of this study. As part of the study, SRG set up a decentralised, supra-regional editorial team that selects and posts weekly news content from all regions on national themes. 

“Ultimately, we need to make our media a place for reassuring discussion: reinvesting in national dialogue and responding to the fragmentation of communities by inviting public and civic debate.”  – Christoph Chaudet, SRG SRR 

The content is directly translated to the national languages – German, French, Italian and Romansh – and is complemented by a completely new conversational tool, “SSR Dialogue”. This brand new platform encourages the public to engage in public debate in a secure environment and connect with people from the four linguistic regions of Switzerland, as everything is translated

Mr. Chaudet expressed the hope of SSR that this will give the opportunity to people to understand better what unites or differentiates them.  

How to vote and why?

Besides giving a picture of the different political parties and their programmes, the role of public service media is also to explain the very core of an election: how to vote and why?

This mission, SRG SSR fulfilled it by providing information about everything that surrounds the election process. From explaining what is the Swiss parliament, its system and its role in a direct democracy to how to fill a ballot, the public can learn the reason why they are called to vote.

 Swiss elections abroad  

But the polls are not just opened in Switzerland. Around 788,000 Swiss citizens live abroad  and also have a voice. The information platform of SRG, is already providing news about Switzerland’s political, economic and cultural links with other countries in 10 languages, but its newest upgrade, SWIplus has drawn another link between Swiss democracy and the Swiss population living outside the country. 

This app enables Swiss abroad to know everything about the current situation surrounding the elections: from election guides to analyses of the various parties and programmes, news and debates. With this new offer, SRG SSR has provided the chance to a larger part of the Swiss population to participate to the democratic process of the country.