by Malcolm Curtis | Tribune de Genève Blogs | June 27, 2012
An executive shuffle is at the root of the problems faced by World Radio Switzerland, which faces being closed down within days.
The shuffle several years ago involved the departure of a Swiss Broadcasting Corporation executive who championed the English-language public radio station.
The connection is made in an article by journalist Helen Brügger, who points out that WRS lost a “protector” when Gérard Tschopp stepped down as head of Radio Suisse Romande.
Tschopp was a friend of Philippe Mottaz, an ex-manager with Télévision Suisse Romande, who is now WRS’s director, Brügger writes.
Tschopp appointed Mottaz, a former White House correspondent for TSR, to head up the radio station when it was established in 2007, she says.
Her French-language article, entitled “To be or not to be?”, appears in the latest issue of Edito-Klartext, the magazine for Impressum, the Swiss journalists’ organization.
It explains how WRS, despite the valuable public service it provides for a paltry sum (the budget for a staff of 20 amounts to 0.2 percent of SBC’s overall budget), became a “hot potato” that current management would rather not be bothered with.
It also shockingly suggests that petty rivalries among executives may have more to do with the fate of the station than good management and policy making.
The board of directors of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation are expected to decide by Friday whether to pull the plug on WRS.
They will deliberate on a secret proposal submitted by Roger de Weck, the SBC’s director general.
While the proposal has not been revealed, De Weck told WRS staff in April that providing services in English was no longer a priority for the public broadcaster.
He added that management was considering either closing down or privatizing the Geneva-based station.
Most of WRS’s listeners actually live in German-speaking Switzerland, according to the latest audience surveys.
And the station, which also has bureaux in Zurich and Lausanne, broadcasts across Switzerland on DAB (digital) and cable.
But for historical reasons it falls under the French-language wing of SBC, headed by Gilles Marchand and based in Lausanne.
Marchand is preoccupied with managing the recent fusion of French-language television and radio services, which has led to mounting disputes with employees.
Not helping matters are claims from WRS employees of “innumerable difficulties” between their own management and staff, according to Brügger.
Neither Marchand nor De Weck has any desire to deal with the WRS issues, particularly at a time when negotiations are under way for a new collective agreement with TSR employees, she says.
It seems clear that WRS would benefit hugely by being cut free from the RTS bureaucracy, perhaps as a stand-alone operation reporting directly to headquarters in Bern.
In any event, the reasons advanced for closing the station appear more than ever to be indefensible.
Happily, WRS appears to have gained political support, both in Geneva and in Bern, for its role in helping to integrate Anglophones in Switzerland.
Around 4,000 people have also signed a petition calling for the station to be saved.
Now, the Anglophone community awaits with bated breath the decision due by week’s end.
Note: The headline of this post was changed and several sentences were removed or altered after I was informed that Helen Brügger’s original article was amended in an online version (click here for the link) to remove certain controversial references that appeared in the Edito-Klartext magazine.