Europe

Switzerland TV licence: Voters reject plan to scrap fee

A person casts his ballot paper into the ballot box at a polling station in Berne, Switzerland, Image copyright EPA
Image caption Voters took to the polls on Sunday to decide on the "No Billag" initiative and financial regulation

Voters in Switzerland have decisively rejected a proposal to abolish the national broadcasting licence fee.

The country was voting in a referendum on Sunday on whether to axe the mandatory yearly fee of 451 Swiss francs ($480; £348) per household.

More than 71% voted against the plan, which was defeated in all 23 states.

The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) offers programming in four different national languages - German, French, Italian, and Romantsch.

Its seven television channels and 17 radio stations are mostly funded by the compulsory licence, with roughly a quarter coming from advertising.

The overwhelming defeat of the No Billag proposal, named after the organisation that collects the fee, came after a hard-fought campaign in the country.

Supporters of keeping the fee maintain it is essential to a small country like Switzerland, with population of just 8.4 million, to have a national broadcaster which reflects its cultural and linguistic diversity.

But anti-licence fee campaigners said citizens were being forced to pay for programmes they did not watch.

They accused the organisation of becoming bloated, inefficient and too dominant within the nation's media.

Voter turnout was more than 54%.

Image caption "Less variety, less Switzerland" and "Stop the licence fee!" - posters used in the referendum campaign

Gilles Marchand, the director general of SBC, called the rejection "a strong signal for public service and private regional radio and television".

He confirmed that the organisation would, however, be reducing its budget and focusing on "efficiency" following the vote.

The Swiss government has said that most households will see a "notable reduction" in their annual contribution from 2019 onwards.

Voters on Sunday were also deciding on whether to extend the federal government's right to levy taxes from 2021 to 2035 - a right that has to be periodically approved in Switzerland.

That was overwhelmingly backed at the polls, with more than 84% voting for the regime.

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