- November 2015 : Radio and TV - cancellation of religious programmes
Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) has cited budgetary reasons to explain the cancellation, planned for 2017, of three religious programmes. In order to save 11.4 million Swiss francs between 2016 and 2018, the radio programmes “A vue d’esprit” and “Haute fréquence”, as well as the televisual magazine “Faut pas croire" will no longer figure in RTS’ future programming. This decision may result in job losses for 50% of the personnel employed within RTS Religion, while the savings to be achieved account for only 3% of RTS’ total budget.
In 26 minutes, the weekly magazine “Faut pas croire” deals with issues of an ethical and philosophical nature, as much as religious. Fuelled by current debates and reports, it is aimed at the general public in French-speaking Switzerland. As for the two radio programmes, “A vue d’esprit" presents content focused on spirituality, whereas “Haute fréquence” deals with sometimes upsetting topics in the religious domain via interviews.
The announcement has caused a veritable outcry, as much on social media as within the editorial team concerned and in the two institutions mainly responsible for the editorial content, Cath-Info (Catholic) and Médias-pro (Protestant). Collaboration between RTS, Cath-Info and Médias-pro dates back to the sixties. The first religious magazines - exclusively Christian - began in 1964. Forty years later, their contents have been extended to the interreligious domain.
On Facebook, one can read that “in the current times, it is not the right time to cancel the small amount of religious programming on TV” and that this choice is “scandalous”. It is a concern shared by Mgr Alain de Raemy, the bishop responsible for the media and entrusted with promoting a Catholic and ecumenical presence in all Swiss media ; he considers that “it raises a question mark over the place we grant man’s religious dimension in these times when religion is so often and in so many ways in the headlines”.
In job terms, it would cut in half the number of personnel working for the religious section of RTS. One collaborator expressed it in these terms : “RTS bosses have not taken into account that we are a true editorial team, with strong proposals, a cross-media collaboration between radio and TV and with precious contacts in religious circles”. Jean-Christophe Emery, in charge of the Protestant section of Radio RTS, remarks that the disappearance of specialist religious productions is deeply worrying.
- January 2015 : recognition of Islam
In Switzerland, religious communities can be recognised officially, implying certain specific rights and obligations (see section on the legal status of religions). However, this recognition is, for the moment, far from being granted to all religious communities established in Switzerland.
Two paths to recognition
The national churches - Roman Catholic and Reformed - benefit from a public law status, just as the Jewish community does in certain cantons (religious issues are dealt with at cantonal, not federal, level). This form of recognition is also called “grande reconnaissance” [lit. major recognition]. This means that the Swiss State ensures, in line with the Constitution, material resources for the functioning of the religious institutions in question, in particular in the form of subsidies and payment of salaries to their representatives.
The “petite reconnaissance” [lit. minor recognition] itself ensures a recognition of public interest for religious communities which then benefit from certain rights that are more restricted than in the first form of recognition : the possibility of providing religious education in schools, for example. Such is the case of the Alevi in the canton of Basel City, a community derived from Islam (for more information, see procedures for recognition).
Timid advances in the recognition of Muslims
Since late 2012, the Alevi community has been the one and only Muslim community to benefit from official, albeit limited, recognition. This lack of recognition can come as a surprise, knowing that Islam is, numerically speaking, the second-largest religion in Switzerland, after the two majority Christian confessions (Reformed and Catholic). In January 2015, two Muslim organisations announced that they wished to prepare their application for recognition as being of public interest : the UVAM (Union vaudoise des associations musulmanes), an umbrella body for 15 organisations, and the CIL (Centre islamique de Lausanne). But the climate unfavourable to Islam and Muslims due to the international context is of concern to UVAM President Pascal Gemperli, a convert to Islam from Schaffhausen.
With the issue being treated at cantonal level, Basel City and Vaud are the cantons concerned with these future requests and should consequently serve as a “laboratory for Muslims in search of a status”. The Canton of Vaud, for its part, has published a document listing many precise conditions to attain a recognition of public interest, recalling that this does not open up a right to subsidies, unlike public law recognition.
The challenges of recognition
According to Jurist Philippe Gardaz of the Institute of Law and Religion at the University of Fribourg, the organisations which commit to an application procedure for recognition can be “bridges of integration”. Indeed, candidate organisations for petite reconnaissance are subject to checks by cantonal authorities over a five-year period and must prove their respect for many principles, such as democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms etc. This without taking into account the process which precedes the canton’s decision, which will have already lasted two years in the Alevis’ case.
Even if the step towards public law recognition (“grande reconnaissance”) is still far off, this debate reignites issues related to the various advantages that such recognition represents : training for imams (when not recruiting imams from abroad who are not always up to date with islams in the Swiss context), the remuneration of Muslim chaplains in prisons and hospitals (today mainly volunteers, unlike Christian chaplains who are remunerated by the Swiss State) and access to the register of residents (which would allow quick contact with Muslim newcomers).