Decoding Swiss television. The discourses on television in Switzerland from 1967 to 1991.

Adrian Stecher Université de Lausanne

My dissertation „Decoding television in Switzerland“ is part of the research project “Beyond Public Service: Towards an Expanded History of Television in Switzerland, 1960 to 2000” which proposes to analyze the history of Swiss television from 1960 to 2000 in a multidisciplinary way. This research project, financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) and lead at the University of Lausanne by Prof. François Vallotton and Dr. Anne-Katrin Weber, aims specifically to embrace the plurality of televisual practices, techniques and actors before the digital era.

The American and European intelligentsia usually criticized television.[1]Compared to other cultural products such as film or theater, or even to radio programs, television was always considered to be a sort of anti-cultural product. Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, denied in his book “Sur la television”, which he published in 1996, that the television is a place and an arena for conversation. He argues, that there is not much you can say on television, let alone about TV.[2]Meanwhile, a more differentiated picture of television has emerged in science. It is no longer defined solely by its cultural potential, but broadly understood as a complex network of relationships between the recipient, program, institution and technology.[3]My PhD thesis builds on this understanding of television and aims to analyze the scientific and political as well as the medial and televisual discourse in Switzerland between 1967 and 1991. Together with the two other doctoral theses, which are part of the SNF research project my scientific contribution should lead to illuminate the discursive history on television in Switzerland and thus close a long-term research gap, which in Switzerland mainly focuses on the institutional history of television.[4]

The cultural peculiarity of Switzerland, with its linguistic diversity and its federal structures, has a significant impact on television in Switzerland. A Swiss television in the singular form does not exist. Switzerland’s television landscape is a highly segmented one. Local and national broadcasters have been producing programs in four languages since the introduction of the dual order model in 1991. Prior to this, television in Switzerland was fully institutionalized. The broadcast of television program lied in the competence of the SSR, which consisted of the Swiss television (SF-DRS), the Télévision Suisse Romande (TSR) and the Televisione Svizera Italiana (TSI). Some aspects of the institutionalized history of the television has been told and described.

Therefore the aim of my doctoral thesis is not to outline Swiss television history normatively, but rather to document and to analyze the ideas of television produced by the different areas of society – politics, media, science and television itself. Another goal is to structure the order of the discourses on television and to identify the players, such as political opinion leaders, political interest groups, journalists and scientists who over a period of time participated and changed, maintained or called the discourse and the view on television. I tend to work with a variety of written sources. From parliamentary sources to media products to documentaries from archives, from sources written by interest groups to sources, which describe the making of television shows. To complete the picture of television discourse in Switzerland, I also consider analyzing the television show’s itself. The most important cinematic source of this work is the political talk show “Fernsehstrasse 1-4”, which SF-DRS introduced in 1974 and continued with interruptions until 1980.

The analysis of the sources occurs on two stages. At first, the written sources are analyzed using the traditional discourse analytical approach. It allows to describe the public approach to the topic of television, to demonstrate continuities and discontinuities in content and power constellations and to map, classify and describe the creation of collective symbolic images of television in Switzerland.[5]The second subordinate stage of the analysis follows the approach of film and television. This approach allows me to understand television productions based on their discursive potential and to make statements beyond the spoken content to visual meaningfulness, staging of the actors and the reflection of the medium about themselves.[6]The period of investigation from 1967 to 1991 makes sense because parliamentarians launched a debate on radio and television in 1967, which aimed to provide Swiss radio with a constitutional basis for the second time. This political process was followed and commented by the other arenas of public discourse. 1991 includes the legal process that implements radio and television at the constitutional level.

Under these conditions, a multitude of question complexes arise and lead the exploration of the source material. What is being talked about? This question is aimed at the content of the political, media and scientific discourse on television in Switzerland. Who is involved in the discourse? At this level of analysis, the content of the documents should be asked and how the modalities of expression were shaped. How is television handled legally? The last thing to do is to ask about the regulative ways in which television is used. To what extent are laws passed at the state level to regulate television? And which control bodies were called otherwise?

The arenas studied to answer these questions constitute science, political leaders, and television itself, which, according to the American philosopher Nancy Fraser, are those places that produce discursive publics.[7]Therefore, they are particularly suitable as research sites for the research objective of mapping the public opinion on television and to analyze and document the discourse on and about television conducted in Switzerland.

[1]See Adorno Theodor W., Fernsehen als Ideologie, In: Adorno Theodor W., Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft,  2. Band, Frankfurt a.M. 1997, S. 518-533. And: Postman Neil, Amusing ourselves to death. Public discourse in the age of show business, New York 1985.

[2]See Pierre Bourdieu, Sur la télévision.

[3]See mainly Hickethier Knut, Dispositiv Fernsehen. Skizze eines Modells, In: grisko Michael (Hg.) Texte zur Theorie und der Geschichte des Fernsehens, Stuttgart 2009, p. 271-292.

[4]See mainly Markus T. Drack, La radio et la télévision en Suisse : histoire de la Société de radiodiffusion SSR jusqu’en 1958, Baden 2000 ; Theo Mäusli and Andreas Steigmeier (eds), Radio und Fernsehen in der Schweiz : Geschichte der Schweizerischen Radio- und Fernsehgesellschaft SRG 1958-1983Baden 2006 ; Theo Mäusli, Andreas Steigmeier and François Vallotton (eds), La radio et la télévision en Suisse : histoire de la Société suisse de radiodiffusion et télévision SSR de 1983 à 2011, Baden 2012.

[5]See Jäger Siegfried, Kritische Diskursanalyse. Eine Einführung, 7. Vollständig überarbeitete Auflage, Münster 2015.

[6]See Hickethier Knut, Film- und Fernsehanalyse, 5. Auflage, Stuttgart 2012.

[7]See Fraser Nancy, Widerspenstige Praktiken. Macht, Diskurs, Geschlecht, Frankuft a.M. 1994.

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