Bertil Cottier at the head of Reporters without borders Switzerland
Institutional Communication Service
28 September 2020
Freedom of information is the foundation of every democracy. Yet almost half the world's population still has no access to free information. From now on, this critical cause can count on the expertise of USI Professor Bertil Cottier, who has been appointed President of the Swiss Section of Reporters Without Borders.
The Ordinary General Assembly 2020 of the members of Reporters without Borders Switzerland unanimously appointed as President the Professor of Media Law on 14 September. RSF Suisse is the Swiss chapter of RSF International, which advocates freedom of the press. "The Swiss branch of RSF Suisse is proud to count on the exceptional expertise, network and international experience of Bertil Cottier in the field of freedom of information," says the press release. We discussed this recent appointment directly with our Professor.
Prof. Cottier, what are your motivations in undertaking this new challenge?
To retire is a good opportunity for a teacher to move from theory to action. For decades I have taught courses on freedom of information in all its nuances and implications, highlighting in particular that in many countries, this is a beautiful principle that unfortunately applies only on paper. I am happy that from now on, I will have more time to contribute concretely to the safeguard of working conditions in the mass media, which have deeply deteriorated in recent years. Investigative journalists have to face an increase in intimidation: while they are taken to court for defamation and slander, they are also physically assaulted. The safety of journalists is therefore at the heart of the concerns of Reporters Without Borders.
You are an expert in international media law: what added value does your specialisation bring to the fight for press freedom?
International standards for the protection of human rights are essential legal guidelines, provided that they are placed under the control of a supranational judicial body such as the European Court of Human Rights (which has done much to make freedom of information on our continent a reality). These standards are also strong political cues. Freedom of information is globally recognised as a pillar of any participatory political system: without a free press, there is no debate, and therefore no democracy. This international aspect of freedom of information shows that it is ultimately a human value and not a local peculiarity that other states can ignore.
Switzerland is always at the top of the press freedom rankings (again this year it is in the top 10 out of 180 countries listed): from this privileged position, how does one work for an association like RSF?
The good results of our country allow the Swiss branch of RSF to convey its message with a certain credibility. That said, we must not forget that there are also drifts and failures in our country: each time there are small obstacles or threats. These must be exposed in the same way as large drifts abroad. We must not allow a culture of restrictions to take hold of us.
Bertil Cottier is Professor of Media Law at Università della Svizzera italiana and the Universities of Lausanne and Neuchâtel, and a member of the Federal Media Commission. After his studies in law, he first worked as a judicial reporter for the daily newspaper 24 heures from Vaud. From 1987 to 2005 Cottier was deputy director of the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law, and from 2004 to 2006 director of the advanced studies program on law, criminality and security of new technologies at the Universities of Lausanne and Geneva. From 2006 to 2010 he was Vice-dean and then Dean of the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society at Università della Svizzera italiana. In parallel, Bertil Cottier has served as a consultant for the Council of Europe, the Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces in Geneva and the Federal Department of foreign affairs, in particular to Ukraine, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Egypt. He is a member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.