The freedom of the Swiss press undermined as part of the overhaul of banking secrecy rules

ZURICH, May 6 (Reuters) – Lawmakers on Friday blocked an attempt to overhaul Switzerland’s strict banking secrecy rules, dealing a blow to freedom of information advocates who were demanding an exemption for journalists and whistleblowers.

Switzerland has come under fire for its press freedom rules after a law introduced in 2015 led leading media group Tamedia to withdraw from an international investigation into a trove of customer data from the Credit Suisse (CSGN.S), published by a consortium of journalists in February as “Suisse Secrets”. Read more

A parliamentary committee said it had struck down two motions to overhaul the bank secrecy rule that drew criticism from the UN, which would have instructed the government to “reverse the threat to press freedom and the protection journalists and whistleblowers” that resulted.

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“From the point of view of the majority of the committee, there is no need for legislative action because Swiss banks have developed considerably in recent years in the prevention of money laundering and other crimes white,” the Economic and Fiscal Commission said. Committee said in a statement.

She added, without elaborating, that changing the law would risk “encouraging public prejudice against individuals”.

Introduced in 2015, the addition to Article 47 of the Swiss Banking Act states that anyone who discloses to “additional persons” information originally obtained from an employee or entity working for a bank in violation of the banking secrecy can be punished by imprisonment for up to three years or a fine.

The UN special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, wrote to Bern in March to express concern about the lack of explicit exemptions for journalists or whistleblowers.

“It cripples freedom of expression and freedom of the media, and hampers the free flow of information,” she wrote in a letter seen by Reuters.

Switzerland’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said in a response on April 29 that he was not aware of any recent legal action against journalists and said that Bern recognized the importance of the freedom of media, citing its protection in the country’s constitution.

He added that Switzerland is developing a national action plan for the safety of journalists.

Although the law has been little publicly tested to date, it was hotly debated after a consortium of foreign media reported that Credit Suisse operated accounts for human rights abusers, fraudsters and businessmen who had been sanctioned under the so-called “Swiss Secrets”. . Credit Suisse has denied any wrongdoing.

Swiss media group Tamedia declined to take part in the project, launched when someone leaked information about Credit Suisse accounts to Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, saying the legal consequences would have been “unforeseeable”.

“In no other democratic country is it a crime to report such accounts, as long as the disclosures are in the public interest,” Tamedia research bureau officials wrote in a February 20 article.

Tamedia’s editor called it a “shame” that foreign journalists had to step in to do the job, calling for the relevant law to be urgently repealed.

“I clearly see that this is a missed opportunity,” Franziska Ryser, a member of the Green Party committee, told Reuters after the decision.

Ryser said she hoped Parliament could now correct the law in broader deliberations, “so that Swiss journalists do not refrain from such investigations in the future.”

The debate comes amid similar discussions in Britain, where a Supreme Court ruling in February would have far-reaching consequences for media reporting. Read more

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Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; additional reporting by Emma Farge, editing by William Maclean

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