2016 was a good year in terms of the way Switzerland was perceived in foreign media. As Ambassador Nicolas Bideau, the head of Presence Switzerland at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), noted, “in 2016, a year of great international upheaval, Switzerland’s economic and political stability projected a very positive image of our country abroad”. The opening of the world’s longest rail tunnel and a reduction in negative media coverage regarding Switzerland’s financial centre had boosted Switzerland’s global media image, he added. Furthermore, media interest in the various stories in connection with Switzerland’s Muslim communities and migration-related issues was to be viewed in a global and a European context, not just a Swiss context.
The opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel at the start of June generated extensive and very favourable coverage. Foreign media praised the importance of the Gotthard Base Tunnel for Europe’s transport infrastructure. The attendance of the French president, François Hollande, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi and the Austrian chancellor, Christian Kern, was also reported in the media. “The opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel was the biggest news story of the year for Switzerland. By opening the world’s longest tunnel on schedule and on budget, with all the heads of state of Switzerland’s neighbouring countries at the opening ceremony, Switzerland scored a major success”, noted Ambassador Bideau. International media coverage of the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel also focused on Switzerland’s innovatiness. Switzerland’s innovative capacity was also emphasised in international coverage of the successful flight around the world by Solar Impulse.
Foreign media reports on Switzerland were strongly influenced by this year’s international topical issues. The way Switzerland treats refugees and its Muslim communities was a recurring theme. Incidents such as the Therwil school which exempted two Muslim pupils from having to shake their teachers’ hands and the two Muslim girls who were denied citizenship after refusing to take part in swimming classes and school camps made international headlines. Migration was the subject of intense interaction and discussions on social media.
A trend seen in recent years in foreign media reports on Switzerland is an increasing interest in proposals submitted to the vote of the Swiss People. Although coverage varied depending on the topicality and relevance of the issues in different countries, overall the trend towards more widespread coverage of the issue of migration continued in 2016. This year, the votes on the initiative to automatically deport foreigners who commit certain crimes and the initiative on an unconditional basic income sparked a great deal of media interest beyond Switzerland’s borders.
Overall, there was less international media coverage on topics related to Switzerland than in 2015. 2016 was rich in media events of global importance. These included Brexit, the US presidential elections and major sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the UEFA European Championship. As such major international events without a direct link to Switzerland grabbed most of the media’s attention, coverage of Switzerland fell. In 2016, the small number of Switzerland-specific news stories with a global reach contributed to this fall in coverage. While in 2015 the Swiss National Bank's decision to abandon the minimum exchange rate for the euro and the FIFA scandal were two events which garnered the attention of the global media, this year there were no stories with similar international reach.
Head of Presence Switzerland
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