Together with other classical liberals in Switzerland, Frédéric Jollien is fighting against the royalties imposed by the government for media consumption. 450 Swiss Francs, the equivalent of €382, is the annual fee that consumers need to pay, regardless if they want state-run TV and radio channels or not. "We are not trying to abolish anything. We merely want consumers to choose for themselves which channels they want to watch.", says Frédéric, who works in the campaign of "NoBillag", the citizen's initiative that intends to overturn the fee via referendum.
The state-run channels in Switzerland date back to World War One, when they were used to communicate with the citizens. The government had completely monopolised both TV and radio "for security reasons". After the war period, Switzerland opened the market to private media companies, but it kept the "Billag" fee in order to pay for the state channels which still absolutely dominate the market until this day.
The fee even has its own website www.billag.ch, on which the mandatory contribution is explained as follows:
"In Switzerland, you are legally obligated to pay the radio and television fees. By paying the fees you enable radio and television programmes in every part of Switzerland."
Which almost sounds like you couldn't have any TV or radio stations if it wasn't for governmental control. For Frédéric Jollien, who is a Senior Local Coordinator for European Students for Liberty and founder of Swiss Students for Liberty, this description is dishonest:
"The assumption that the media landscape would crumble if we were to abolish this annual fee is ridiculous. The opponents to our campaign claim that without the "Billag", nobody would pay for state channels, yet they simultaneously also argue that people are very fond of the content. Which one is it now?"
The "NoBillag" campaign has been working on the issue of media royalties for three years now, and effectively managed to get their citizen's initiative approved. This means that a public vote on the repeal of the "Billag" will take place on March 4, 2018. Until then, the campaign is tirelessly working to promote its ideas. Frédéric Jollien explains that this one of the very few referenda which was organised by people who believe in the concepts of free markets and free people.
However, running such a campaign demands considerable efforts: "The government has extended the "Billag" to include private companies as well. Despite them only receiving less than 10 per cent of the revenue generated by the fee, they now also have vested interests in keeping it in place and steadily negotiating a larger chunk of it. It's us against the whole media landscape."
The print media is equally unimpressed by the "NoBillag" campaign, as owners also seek to convince the government to initiate large subsidies for the papers, the same way it is practiced in countries like France. Furthermore, after petitioning for months to get the necessary signatures to organise a referendum, the campaign for left with only 30,000 CHF (€25,600), which is clearly too little to run a three-language campaign in the mountainous country in Central Europe.
Frédéric Jollien is very optimistic regardless: "We started a crowdfunding campaign and raised over 50,000 Francs in only ten days, bringing us closer of our 100,000 CHF objective. But not only that: several polls have indicated that we might very well be able to win the public vote!"
The success of the idea of letting consumers choose which TV and radio programmes they watch is apparent: journalists (who by the way, are exempt from paying this fee) are releasing heavy verbal fire on the campaigners. They claim it would cause massive unemployment in the media sector, that it is anti-democratic or that it would enable big foreign companies to take over the Swiss market. "It's actually quite peculiar: the Swiss conservatives, who are usually the ones spreading fear of foreigners, support us because they believe that state media is being biased against them, while the Left opposes us because they believe the evil foreign media channels from Germany, Italy and France will eat us up. This shows how strange the idea of a free market can sound to people", says Frédéric.
Until the vote in March, he is busily writing op-eds and participating in radio and TV debates. If the campaign would be successful, then this would definitely be one of the most extraordinary free-market grassroots-lead initiative in Europe to date.
Frédéric and the campaign hope to raise more money for their efforts. You can support them through their crowd-funding campaign here: www.wemakeitbetter.ch