The summer of our discontent

by Malcolm Curtis|August 13, 2012

This is the season when nothing gets done.

Summer is glorious but a winter of discontent hangs over our house, chiefly because we have chosen to remain here in the Pays de Gex when the natives suggest in a variety of ways that you should scram.

Most of the local small shop owners have closed for two, three,  or four weeks.

Haplessly hoping to cash in on the summer sales, I wandered last week to a few stores selling furnishings in Ferny-Voltaire, my home town, just across the border from Geneva.

Gazing in the display windows at cushions and lamps that might have adorned our living room, I discovered the tell-tale, hand-scrawled signs.

Nothing here, certainly not the prospect of business from clients foolish enough to hang around during vacation time, gets in the way of annual summer holidays.

Engaging a plumber or electrician at other times of the year is already a trying affair that can sometimes take several months to schedule. But now that the beaches beckon, the task suddenly becomes Mission Impossible.

Our efforts to have a technician visit the house to mend a leaking water-softener were solemnly rebuffed.

The only man available to do the job was booked up for the the week and on Friday he joined the swollen cast of people in the region who are unavailable to provide services of any kind.

We’ll have to wait until the “rentrée”, or the return to school in September, before we can hopefully flag him down to fix our waterworks.

(If you are wondering about the water softener, the tap water here is very hard and needs to be treated to lessen the impact of its high-mineral content on pipes and appliances. Unlike most of the drinking water in Geneva, which comes from the lake, ours comes from a well.)

The season when nothing gets done also takes its toll on those of us who are hosting visitors.

We like to bicycle through the nearby countryside of Geneva and the canton of Vaud, exploring the many picturesque villages.

One of the chief pleasures is stopping in at charming bistros to slake parched thirsts and to savor the local gastronomy.

We are used to being denied this indulgence on Sundays, of course, a day that Geneva's protestant reformer Jean Calvin advised should be given over to more sober contemplations.

But for the next few weeks in most of these villages, every day will be like the Sabbath, much to the chagrin of our pedaling visitors, with their parched throats.

Virtually all of the local village restaurants — barring those directly on Lake Geneva — are closed as the owners join the exodus for other places, presumably near beaches, where it is still possible to toast the glories of summer.

We noticed “fermé¨ signs posted at eateries in Collex, Genthod, Coppet and Mies, establishments that evidently can manage just fine without summer tourists.

Granted, there are a few benefits from this otherwise aggravating pause in activity.

A noisy construction site behind our apartment building became a haven of peace after the hardhat workers downed their tools for a holiday break last week.

And the rush-hour tailbacks have dwindled to the point where driving into Geneva from Ferney is a fast, hassle-free experience.

But frustrations remain.

Our apartment is in a new structure, where a list of unaccomplished chores to finish the building lengthens, although the construction job was officially completed 19 months ago.

The hedge is badly in need of clipping, dead trees have yet to be replaced, malfunctioning doors await repairs, the detector used to automatically turn off lights in the underground parking area is disabled, areas have yet to be painted and cleaned, the keyless entry system to our building is broken, and so on.

Tantalizingly, the real estate management company dealing with the builder appeared to be on the verge of beginning to tackle these and other issues.

But then the season when nothing gets done rudely intervened.

It is a bit like Ramadan, the Muslim religious period of fasting and abstinence, which coincidentally this year is occurring at the same period.

Geneva hotel and restaurant owners have reported a drop in visits from Arabs from the Persian Gulf states who typically like to visit the City of Calvin in August.

Because Muslims apparently prefer to observe Ramadan in their home countries, many who normally make the annual pilgrimage to the city have cancelled their trips for 2012.

So the annual Fêtes de Genève, the summer festival with fun-fair rides by the lake that wrapped up on Sunday, has been much quieter than usual.

Somehow, this seems entirely fitting for the NGD season.

A version of this article was originally published on the Essential Edge Geneva website.

For more information about communications professional Malcolm Curtis, check malcolm-curtis.com


Quote vetting — standard in Switzerland — sparks Anglo-Saxon media uproar

Picture 4.pngby Malcolm Curtis|July 22, 2012

The growing journalistic practice in America of allowing sources to vet and change quotes from interviews is drawing disapproval from media experts but the practice has long been the norm in Switzerland.

The New York Times this week reported on how the presidential election campaign teams of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are demanding — and receiving — veto power over quotations made by officials from both camps in interviews with reporters.

Journalists are complying for fear of losing access to inside sources but the result is comments that are bowdlerized, lacking in color, bereft of bad language or anything remotely provocative.

In Switzerland, it is commonplace for bankers, businessmen, academics, officials and others to ask journalists to see copies of articles with comments attributed to them before publication.

From my own experience this is not entirely a bad thing because it can reduce mistakes and misunderstandings over words taken out of context.

As a journalist coming from North America, I confess I initially had misgivings about the acceptance of this policy by Swiss journalists.

Among other things, the need for a source to vet articles means that it takes longer to file a story and in a profession where speed is important this is a hardship.

However, in most cases I have found that Swiss sources get back to you very quickly.

And one positive aspect of this practice is that it works against the kind of “gotcha!” journalism that pounces on gaffes or lapses that do not cast an accurate reflection on the source or the situation.

There are limits, of course.

I recall a spokesman for one of Switzerland’s top banks wanted to change a quote that I had used, even though it was taken from the financial institution’s own press release.

In another case, I had to completely recast an article about Geneva’s banks because the official I quoted from tape-recorded comments, uncomfortable about the look of the words on paper, decided that he wanted to rephrase what he said.

Clearly, when a source says something newsworthy — and then later recants after reflection — it can be annoying.

Many journalists have had the experience of a source saying something juicy only to follow up with: “For God’s sake, don’t quote me on that.”

In America, the norm is that everything in an interview with a reporter is on the record, and such pleas against quotation are ignored.

But in the long run, is the public badly served if a source is ultimately allowed to be quoted on what he really means to say, rather than something that inadvertently popped out of his mouth?

Many Anglo-Saxon journalists are up in arms over the idea that sources can screen what is being said about them.

“When journalists give sources the opportunity to fix up what they’ve said, we’ve become complicit in their spin,” Jeff Jarvis said in a commentary for The Guardian.

“When we do so without revealing the practice, we become conspirators in a lie to the people we are supposed to serve: the public.”

That may be going a bit far.

Print journalists already frequently conspire in the transcription of comments made during interviews to eliminate the “ers” and “ahs”, and to smooth over the repetitions and the grammatical slips that are part of everyday speech.

Such changes are made to make quotes more readable even if quibblers would say they detract from a faithful account.

Also, journalists are not required to go along with vetting requests from sources, although they risk losing access to them the next time round.

In Britain and the US, the problem is frequently skirted in political coverage through off-the-record briefings, which provide fodder for daily news.

Getting comments on the record is always preferable but reporters have to weigh the value of the information being obtained.   

That said, the notion that politicians can demand print news organizations to change tape-recorded comments made by them is unacceptable.

Fortunately, most of what politicians in western countries say on the record is now broadcast in the public arena before television cameras.

Thankfully, so far as I’m aware, the pols are not yet at the point of demanding access to the video editing booth.

Find out about Malcolm Curtis, communications professional, at malcolm-curtis.com


Former WRS presenters vie for radio station

by Malcolm Curtis|July 9, 2012

Two former presenters from World Radio Switzerland are competing in rival bids to take over the national English-language radio station.

Conor Lennon, who left WRS early last year to start up Mountain Radio in Verbier, is behind a proposal announced last week by Off-Piste Radio Network to bid for the station, put up for sale by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR).

Mark Butcher, another onetime WRS presenter, is a partner with entrepreneur Peter Sibley in Anglo Media, a company that publicly announced its readiness back in April to provide a national English-language radio service to replace the public broadcaster.

The board of directors of SRG SSR decided on June 27 to sell WRS after receiving a report from management which stated that English-language radio was not part of the public broadcaster’s core mandate.

The decision comes five years after the station was launched following a takeover of privately run World Radio Geneva.

Butcher, a 15-year veteran presenter at WRS and WRG, hosts a morning show on Radio Frontier, an Internet and cable radio station run by Anglo Media and aimed at expats in the Geneva and neighboring French region.

Picture 3.pngLennon, who previously worked as a broadcast journalist for the BBC and Sky News Radio, founded Off-Piste Radio Network as a limited company in January 2011.

The company says its Mountain Radio, broadcast through the Internet and on cable, is Switzerland’s first tourist radio station.

It caters to the international clientele of Verbier and surrounding mountain resorts in the Quatre Vallées and St Bernard Pass regions.

A privatized WRS “should continue to provide public-service oriented, intelligent and entertaining content,” Connor said in a statement.

“I believe WRS plays a very important role in integrating expatriates and Anglo-professionals in Switzerland,” he said.

“It is also an excellent way to promote Switzerland both internally and abroad.”

Off-Piste proposes a “marked increase” in local content for Geneva, Zurich, Bern and Basel, Switzerland’s main metropolitan areas.

And Lennon said the company would “integrate many of the talented journalists and technicians from WRS into our new structure.”

Off-Piste said it is in touch with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and Ofcom, Switzerland’s broadcast regulator, as well as “several private Swiss media organizations”.

SRG SSR is accepting bids from prospective buyers of WRS until October with a decision to be made by the end of the year.

For more information about Anglo Media's plans, click here.

Find out about Malcolm Curtis, communications professional, at malcolm-curtis.com


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