The Head of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation recently announced that he was seriously considering stopping the English radio channel or putting it up for sale. According to Roger de Weck, World Radio Switzerland (WRS) was no longer a priority for the state subsidized television and radio conglomerate since English was not a national language. (Disclaimer: I am a regular contributor to WRS.) Money was not a consideration since the station represented a tiny percentage of the overall budget.
Followers of the English language channel have reacted with consternation and incomprehension if not dismay. The radio serves as an important link between the English-speaking community especially in the Swiss Romand and Switzerland. For many expats as well as non-French speakers, it is their way of hearing all about Switzerland while touching base with news on BBC, NPR or familiar shows. It is not an Anglosphere island separating the community from Switzerland. Rather, WRS explains what is going on locally, a form of outreach to the English-speaking community.
It is a denial of this outreach function that warrants particular attention. At the same time the Geneva tourism office is restructuring because of falling revenues, at the same time the Geneva economic office is struggling to lure new companies and keep those already here, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation is announcing that outreach to the English-speaking community is not a priority. Forget that Zurich schools have English as the first foreign language, forget that much of Switzerland's foreign relations are carried out in English, the official Swiss Radio and Television Corporation is announcing that English is no longer on its radar screen.
How does Roger de Weck expect the English-speaking community to react? When he was appointed, his nomination was welcomed precisely because of his cosmopolitan image. He is fluent in English and German. But this announcement plays into the worst image of Switzerland as a closed society, xenophobic, unfriendly to foreigners. The English-speaking community is beside itself; the moment has come for the Swiss authorities to explain to Mr. De Weck that abandoning WRS sends the wrong message. WRS is an important outreach with implications beyond the Anglosphere. More is at stake here than just a radio station.