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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > P > Periodical Literature — Switzerland

Periodical Literature — Switzerland

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The history of Swiss journalism goes back to the beginning of the seventeenth century, the first Swiss newspaper being issued at Basle in 1610. It is significant that the early newspapers of Switzerland, which was at that time only nominally free, hardly discussed political matters excepting those of foreign countries and this was the case until well into the eighteenth century. The censorship exercised at that time was so strict that it did not seem advisable to raise questions concerning home politics. Even in the middle of the eighteenth century, writers of objectionable articles were bluntly notified to give up writing for newspapers. The political newspaper did not appear until at the close of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the freedom of the Press was gradually allowed. This freedom, however, for a long time existed chiefly in the Protestant cantons. Catholic journalism in the present sense is a recent growth, and does not extend farther back than the third decade of the last century, when the first Catholic newspapers appeared at Lucerne and St. Gall. The reasons for this were partly of a political and partly of an economic character. Switzerland is a federation of twenty-five cantons, each of which up to 1848 was absolutely sovereign and up to 1874 was practically sovereign. Even now the cantons possess many of the rights of sovereignty, though not as many as the States of the American Union. Hence the political Press has mainly a cantonal or local character, dealing with the interests of the sub-divisions of a small state.

All the Catholic cantons are relatively small, some of them not having more than 20,000 or 30,000 inhabitants. Moreover, the population is mostly rural. Except Lucerne and Fribourg, they do not contain important cities, and, finally, the Catholic party for many years totally misjudged the importance and influence of the political Press in general, and let itself be outstripped by their opponents. The first strong impulse to the founding of a Catholic Press was given by the civil war of 1847, called the war of the Sonderbund; the war ended with the defeat of the seven Catholic cantons, which placed them largely at the mercy of a violent Liberalism. This was still more the case in the cantons made up of Catholic and Protestant districts. The Catholic Press grew very rapidly during the sixth decade of the past century and still more so during the Swiss Kulturkampf of the seventies. More recently a large emigration of Catholics into Protestant cantons led to the founding of Catholic newspapers in these cantons. Switzerland has now a Catholic Press in the Catholic cantons, in those where Catholics and Protestants are on a parity, and in the Protestant cantons.

The statistics are as follows: In 1911 Switzerland had 399 political newspapers, of which 64 were Catholic. Of these Catholic papers, 1 is issued 7 times a week, 10 are issued 6 times weekly, 1 is issued 5 times weekly, 3 appear 4 times weekly, 22 appear 3 times, 13 appear twice weekly, and 14 once a week. 50 are published in German, 9 in French, 4 in Italian, and 1 in Rhæto-Romanic. The number of copies issued at an edition are, taken altogether, as follows: the 4 daily papers, including 1 issued 5 times weekly, have a circulation of 52,000 copies; 3 that appear 4 times weekly, 8000 copies; 22 appearing 3 times weekly, 57,000; 13 appearing twice weekly, 30,000; 14 appearing once a week, 60,000. Thus the 64 Catholic papers have a total circulation of 207,000. The Canton of Aargau has 6; Appenzell Outer Rhodes, none; Appenzell Inner Rhodes, 1; half-canton of Basel-Stadt, 1; half-canton of Basel-Land, none; Berne, 3; Fribourg, 4; St. Gall, 12; Geneva, 1; Glarus, 1; Grisons, 3; Lucerne, 5; Neuchâtel, none; Schaffhausen, 1; Schwyz, 5; Solothurn, 3; Ticcino, 3; Thurgau, 1; half-canton of Nidwald, 1; half-canton of Obwald, 1; Uri, 1; Vaud, none; Valais, 5; Zug, 1; Zurich, 4. The Catholic cantons have 28 Catholic papers, including 3 dailies, the cantons having parity, 27, including 5 dailies; the Protestant cantons, 9, including 4 dailies and 1 appearing 5 times weekly.

Although the Catholic Press of Switzerland has grown enormously in the last thirty years, and need not fear comparison with that of other countries, even entirely Catholic, yet the result is much less satisfactory and even disappointing if we compare the Catholic with the anti-Catholic press. According to the census of 1910 Switzerland has in round numbers 3,700,000 inhabitants. Of these about 1,500,000 are Catholics. From this we should deduct the liberal Catholics, a fairly large element, and the foreign workmen, Italian men and women, journeymen-mechanics, servants, etc., that are only temporary residents. Consequently only about 1,200,000 Catholics can be taken into consideration for the present purpose. We shall compare only the dailies. A comparison between the weekly papers would not yield a much better result, as is evident from the fact that there are only 64 Catholic political papers to counterbalance 399 non-Catholic, and for 269 non-Catholic weeklies that appear 1 to 4 times weekly there are only 53 Catholic ones. The daily non-Catholic Press of Switzerland includes 67 newspapers; of these 44 are extreme Liberal, that is, hostile to the Church and in part disposed to renew the Kulturkampf; 3 of these appear twice a day, total circulation, 244,000; 7 Liberal-Conservative, Protestant in faith, and generally friendly to Catholics, total circulation 46,000; 10 Social-Democratic and belonging to the Democratic party of the Left, partly hostile to Catholics but not inclined to carry on a Kulturkampf, total circulation 54,000; 7 politically indifferent, total circulation 164,000. Taken altogether, as before said, 67 papers with a total circulation of 508,000, opposed to which are 12 Catholic dailies, one of which appears 5 times weekly, with a total circulation of 52,000. In proportion to the population there should be at least 20 with a circulation of 150,000. The total circulation of all the 64 Catholic Swiss papers is 207,000 copies, not the half of the total circulation of the non-Catholic dailies, and, the total circulation of the extreme Liberal dailies alone is much larger than the total circulation of all the Catholic papers taken together. It should be further added that up to now the Catholic Press contains no paper of two daily editions, and that the best non-Catholic newspapers exceed the Catholic ones in copiousness of matter, etc. It is also worthy of notice that the Catholic daily with the largest circulation, the "Vaterland", has about 11,000 subscribers among Catholics, while among the 63,000 subscribers to the politically and ecclesiastically indifferent "Zürcher Tagesanzeiger", there are about 20,000 Catholics. Again, it is not a Catholic weekly that has the largest circulation among Catholics, but it is the rather Liberally inclined "Schweiz. Wochenzeitung" of Zurich. Yet the Catholic party is the second in strength in Switzerland.

But the Liberal and Protestant parties are socially and economically in a far better position, they control the larger part of the cities, while the majority of the Catholic population represent the country and mountain districts, which have less need of a daily paper. On the other hand, the daily Press of the Social Democratic party and of the Democratic party of the Left have a total circulation of 54,000, although they draw their readers almost entirely from the lower classes of the population. However, the Swiss Catholic Press is earnest, courageous, and on the whole is able and efficient, and exerts a greater influence than is the case with the greater part of the Liberal Press. The principal Catholic newspapers of Switzerland are: the "Vaterland", founded at Lucerne in 1873; the "Neuen-Zürcher Nachrichten", established at Zurich in 1904; the "Ostschweiz" in 1874 at St. Gall; the "Basler Volksblatt", in 1873 at Basle; and the "Liberté", in 1865 at Fribourg. Among the pioneers, now deceased, of the Catholic Press of Switzerland special mention should be made of: Bishop Augustinus Egger, Landamman Baumgartner, and Joseph Gmür of St. Gall, Schultheiss von Segesser of Lucerne, Landamman Hänggi of Solothurn, the episcopal commissary von Ah, and Landamman Th. Wirz of Obwald, Mgr Jurt of Basle, and Canon Schorderet of Fribourg. Among Catholic periodicals the following should be mentioned: "Die schweiz. Kirchenzeitung", of Lucerne, a theological review that has a high reputation among the German clergy also: the "Schweiz. Rundschau", issued at Stans, a Catholic scientific and literary review; the "Schweiz. sozialpolit. Blätter", of Fribourg; the "Alte und Neue Welt", of Einsiedeln, an illustrated Catholic family paper, which has a large circulation also in Germany and Austria; the "Zukunft", of Einsiedeln, a Catholic review for the Swiss associations for young men; various religious Sunday papers for the people; an illustrated supplement for Catholic newspapers; a large number of Catholic calendars, as well as the organs of Catholic societies, etc. The five papers for Catholic workmen and working women have been included among the political newspapers.


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APA citation. Baumberger, G. (1911). Periodical Literature — Switzerland. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11691a.htm

MLA citation. Baumberger, Georg. "Periodical Literature — Switzerland." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11691a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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