Foreword to the
2016 Annual Report

The year that just ended was as eventful as it was successful for our company. January saw Larissa M. Bieler take over as Editor in Chief and immediately set a new editorial tone. In June, the Federal Council approved the new international remit for 2017–2020, which had been carefully negotiated between OFCOM and SRG SSR. Then, in August, we invested considerable resources in covering the centenary congress of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) (#WeAreSwissAbroad). 

Direct democracy was an ongoing theme of our reporting throughout the year (#DearDemocracy), as we also stepped up our use of social media, community-building and data journalism. These priorities enabled SWI swissinfo.ch to extend its reach significantly in 2016, and to improve its image in the media landscape both nationally and internationally.

Despite this, global journalism did not distinguish itself during the year just ended. With certain exceptions, media quality is on the decline. Editorial teams are being thinned out and disbanded, and there is increasingly little time for research or quality management. Privately run news portals are no longer complying with ethical guidelines as strictly as they might and, to many, a one-sided headline or easily digestible story takes precedence over factuality and balance. 

The Brexit referendum and the US elections propelled the phenomenon of “fake news” to inglorious fame in 2016. The trend is not confined to the USA or the UK, however. Our domestic media also circulate falsehoods on a regular basis, with particularly fatal consequences in referendum campaigns. A democratic public fed false information is no longer in a position to make independent majority decisions.

With the directness of new media, it seems to be easier to manipulate the will of the people than it was 20 years ago. Nobody is systematically checking the explosion of information on the internet. Copy-paste inflation is rife, and it has serious implications. Amid these trends, the stock of credible, quality media is on the rise. They have a duty to check and to question. With their carefully researched analyses, they must be beacons of fact and impartiality, and establish themselves as the corrective counterbalance to short-term news platforms, blogs and social media. 

It is this tradition that our company represents. As SRG‘s online service, SWI believes that it has a duty to maintain relevance, diversity, fairness, factuality and balance. Our focus is not on short-term attention-grabbing, but on developing long-term depth. When choosing which issues to cover, we put the gossip aside and concentrate on the institution of direct democracy, for example, writing about Switzerland as a business location, the migration debate, or the climate and energy problem. Social issues take precedence over sports and celebrity journalism. We also pay due attention to the cultural aspects of life.

In 2016 as in the past, SWI took specific action to support quality journalism. Items are researched and produced in multi-lingual teams, and specialist editorial groups are being established. Everything in the production process is doubled-checked. Factual errors are discussed within the teams and corrected consistently. Our journalists are given the opportunity to develop professionally. The multimedia offering is subject to regular review by our Public Council and external experts, and an Ombudsman‘s Office monitors compliance with quality standards.

On a final note, SWI has been involved in a project known as “Pheme” for the past three years. Funded by the European Union and named after the Greek goddess of notoriety and rumour alike, this initiative has developed a tool to support and speed up fact-checking. It does this by localizing dubious claims made on Twitter, tracking them and checking the extent to which they are true. This work produced a number of articles on fact-checking which appeared on swissinfo.ch in the course of 2016.

The challenges facing journalism will be no less great in the year ahead. The new corporate strategy sets out three areas of focus for SWI: to continue to expand our reach, to optimize journalistic content for mobile devices such as smartphones (the “Mobile First” strategy), and to simplify our production processes. In doing so, we will remain faithful to our view of the role of the media: to deliver quality, fairness, diversity, factuality and balance. It is our job to uphold and to defend these principles in 2017 as in the past.

Peter Schibli
Director SWI swissinfo.ch