In colonial New England, the center of village life was the common green in the heart of the village. It was there that citizens met; it was there that discussions took place as well as market sales much like the Place de Marché in many small Swiss towns. The common green was a public space belonging to the people. Much like the common green, the term commons or common good refers to that which belongs to the people. It could be air, water or a common heritage of mankind earmarked by UNESCO. What is crucial to the common good is its public nature. It is something common to all but not a good in the sense of a commodity that can be bought and sold. The common good is a public good; it belongs to everyone and is not a commodity available on the market.
Roger de Weck, Director General of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, recently announced that the radio station World Radio Switzerland (WRS) would be privatized. He announced that the only public English language radio station in Switzerland would be put up for sale. In the United States, there are many private stations, but there is also National Public Radio. That station is a public service, just as WRS is (was) a public service.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher attacked the concept of the commons with fervor. During their years in power, much of the common good and public services were privatized. The neo-liberal attack on the commons included transportation, media and education, with de-regulation the preferred weapon. Everything was for sale.
There are many things to say about the failure of the neo-liberal crusade. But, specifically in terms of Roger de Weck's announcement, what is the most disheartening is the separation of a small English-language station from the idea of a public service. The English language community as well as those wishing to listen to English language broadcasts have been told that we are not part of the Swiss commons. Our space has become a good that can be bought and sold, unlike stations in the Swiss national languages. While Switzerland is desperately trying to attract foreign businesses and expertise, Mr. de Weck has clearly said that English speaking people do not merit a small radio station as a public service.
Mr. de Weck did not listen to the City of Geneva; he did not listen to the Canton of Geneva; he did not listen to the Fondation pour Genève, to the British and American Chambers of Commerce. As head of a public media institution, he did not listen to 4,000 supporters or Swiss Parliamentarians of different political parties all of whom have supported WRS as a public service.
Not only did Mr. de Weck not listen, he is also behind the times. The Reagan/Thatcher era is over. The mania for privatization has proven a disaster. But, more importantly, he has alienated an important constituency. It is difficult enough for foreigners to understand Swiss society. It is more than disheartening to discover that you are not part of the country's commons. Mr. de Weck has decided not to continue an obvious, inexpensive instrument to integrate English speakers. He has chosen not to listen to calls from various sources to help English speakers be part of the Swiss community. He has not listened, but we have heard him loud and clear.