Swiss Solidarity, an endangered mission
It’s difficult to see the link between your Billag invoice of 450 francs for the radio and TV licence fee, and a child assisted by Terre des hommes. Yet the “No Billag” initiative, to be put to the vote on 4 March, threatens the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG), the founder of Swiss Solidarity, whose donations are channelled to projects run by aid organisations. We discussed this with Tony Burgener, director of the foundation.
How does Swiss Solidarity work?
Thanks to the generosity of the Swiss public and SRG, which organises the national fundraising days, we’re able to finance the projects of 25 partners abroad and some 50 associations in Switzerland. We select reliable organisations and evaluate their projects in the field. We do this in a spirit of partnership with Swiss NGOs. It’s a unique system that exists in no other country.
You’re a key donor to Terre des hommes. Is there a project that has particularly impressed you?
When I visited your projects in Iraq this year, I discovered a new Terre des hommes – an organisation working close to the front line, equipped with the essential qualities and precautions for helping people in need. This flagship operation signals Tdh’s intention to engage more in conflict situations, and that benefits Swiss Solidarity, which relies on strong partners in the area.
The Swiss are soon to vote on "No Billag" – an initiative which would cut the funding SRG receives from radio and TV licence fees. What’s your connection with SRG?
The story began in 1946, when two radio broadcasters came up with the idea of a programme called Swiss Solidarity, a platform where listeners could launch solidarity campaigns. They started collecting during the large-scale floods that hit Germany and Italy in the 1950s; SRG joined forces with Swiss NGOs to redistribute the money. In 1983, SRG realised that it couldn’t manage all this work internally, and decided to create a foundation.
What is the relationship nowadays?
This link is still very strong, and that's why the SRG calls Swiss Solidarity its humanitarian arm! In addition to the Board of Trustees, there are the famous fundraising days that RTS in Geneva, SRF in Zurich, RSI in Lugano and RTR in Chur support by providing their infrastructure and presenters. Broadcasting takes place over 24 hours on all channels and in each of the four linguistic regions. These are highlights for our country; the humanitarian tradition is part of Switzerland's DNA.
What would happen to Swiss Solidarity and the humanitarian projects it supports, if the vote goes in favour of “No Billag”?
SRG is clear about this: if the “No Billag” initiative is accepted, it would need to shut down. No doubt the same goes for us, as we’d lose a crucial link in our chain of solidarity – I'm not sure we'd be around for long after that. Without a platform to appeal for donations, we couldn’t raise such large funds at very little cost for Swiss NGOs and people in need.
Billag is the agency responsible for collecting the radio and TV licence fee, a tax that residents in Switzerland pay to finance public broadcasting. The “No Billag” initiative, to be put to the vote on 4 March, considers this fee a restriction of individual freedom, and wants to abolish it. “No Billag” opponents say the tax must be maintained, as in representing the variety of opinions and range of areas of interest to the Swiss population, public broadcasting helps democracy to function properly.
Photo credit: © Tdh