In the media
In Switzerland, political advertising is prohibited on the radio and on television, but it is allowed in other media.
A newspaper can refuse to publish a political advertisement. According to the Swiss Press Council, the media complaints body, a newspaper can also consider ethical criteria. Political advertisements should also be clearly distinguished from editorial content.
Inclusion of political advertisements in the official voting papers
Some cantons allow political advertising to be sent in the official envelope with the voting papers.
If you want to run a campaign with stalls and events, etc. on a public road, you need to check with your commune to find out what is allowed where and when. Oftentimes, you need a permit.
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Roadside advertising that could compromise road safety is prohibited. The Road Signs Ordinance (available in German, French and Italian) sets out the conditions for other roadside advertising that are valid for the whole of Switzerland, although additional cantonal and communal rules may also apply.
Radio and television
In the run-up to elections and popular votes, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), which provides public service broadcasting, must broadcast a programme that guarantees equal opportunities for all candidates and political camps. The programme must respect the requirements of objectivity and appropriate diversity.
If you have a complaint, you can contact the SBC Ombudsman. In a second step, you can refer the matter to the Independent Complaints Authority for Radio and Television (ICA) (web page available in German, French and Italian).
Private radio and television stations are also subject to certain requirements. This includes news broadcasts which must provide a fair account of the events related to the elections and popular votes.
Other media outlets, which are all private, enjoy a substantial degree of freedom. As a result, voluntary principles of media ethics and the Swiss Press Council have a vital role to play. Anyone can file a complaint with the Swiss Press Council; although it does not have the power to impose penalties, the general public takes an interest in its opinions.
Readers’ letters and contributions to online forums
During campaigning for elections and popular votes, the media are not obliged to publish a reader's letter or post an online comment. Where people make racist or defamatory remarks, the medium concerned can face criminal penalties for publishing them. Publishers also have the right to edit readers’ letters.
Although social media and websites are subject to the law, people can get away with a lot during election campaigns. For example, it is not an offence, in principle, to deliberately spread false information (fake news).
Opinion polls on popular votes and elections are not subject to any special regulations in Switzerland. However, the industry regulates itself. For example, opinion polls are generally not published in the last ten days before an election or popular vote.
The Swiss Press Council is the complaints authority for the media.
The Road Signs Ordinance (available in German, French and Italian) regulates roadside advertising.
The Federal Act on Radio and Television regulates, among other things, the content of programmes.
The SBC Ombudsman deals with complaints against the SBC.
The Independent Complaints Authority for Radio and Television (ICA) (web page available in German, French and Italian) issues binding opinions.