APES is 88!
The Foreign Press Association in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, to give it its full name, was founded on July 15, 1928, in Geneva, then the seat of the League of Nations, by three journalists of different nationalities: Frenchman Rene Gerard, Briton James Challinor, and Julius Becker, a German. It is one of the oldest professional media organisations in Switzerland.
APES’ first President, Julius Becker, was correspondent of the Berlin liberal newspaper “Vossische Zeitung,” a leading European newspaper and one of its oldest, which in 1934 fell victim to National Socialism.
During the 1930s, the Association had some 40 members and had an active professional and social life. But during World War Two, it was effectively paralysed by differences between its members. However, it survived, and on May 8, 1945, Armistice Day in Europe, it gave a lunch in honour of the President of the Confederation, Edouard Von Steiger. The encounter made possible the laying of a basis for the eventual creation, many years later, of an accreditation document and the official recognition of the status of a foreign correspondent in Switzerland.
At that time, on the initiative of APES’ Secretary-General Rudolf E.Singer, a Press Centre was set up in Berne to ease the work of foreign reporters. Singer, who was correspondent for Le Soir of Brussels, was the driving force of the Association from the war until 1968, first as Secretary-General and later, for 16 years, as its vice-president. Thanks to him, the first APES dinner in honour of the President of the Swiss Confederation – at that time Enrico Celio – was held in 1948. The Presidential Dinner has since become an occasion which has since become a major annual tradition in the life of the Association.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the headquarters of APES was moved to Berne. The membership had grown considerably, with an average of 150 full members, associates and adherents. It was already extremely active both socially and professionally, organising visits to every corner of Switzerland.
However, relations between foreign correspondents and the Swiss authorities were not always cloudless. At that time, Switzerland was the only country in Western Europe to allow only its own journalists to report from the parliament, the Federal Assembly. This monopoly on information led the major international news agencies to close their bureaux in Berne, transferring to Geneva. However, in 1961, the Justice and Police Department began to issue “federal blue cards”, a form of work permit, to foreign journalists. Rene Mossu, then President of APES, asked the authorities to set up a small working office for its members inside the Federal Palace equipped with telephones and telex facilities. The answer was “no” on the grounds of “impractability.” However, APES was told that foreign journalists could always use the Press Centre at the Hotel Bellevue. Association documents from that time bear witness to the strong displeasure of its members at finding themselves trying to cover Swiss domestic politics while cut off from the information to which their Swiss colleagues had free access. Nevertheless, after steady pressure by Mossu, APES members were granted eight press seats in the Federal Palace, with access to telephones and telex.
Mossu, correspondent of Le Figaro and Director of the “Messager” newspaper published in Haute-Savoie, was elected president of APES in 1956 and remained at that post for the next 16 years. His aim was to anchor the Association firmly in the national and international life of Switzerland, which he saw as his second homeland. He had published in 1946 a book of memoirs on the Resistance in Haute- Savoie, “The Secrets of a Frontier”, which brought him the Montyon Prize of the Académie Française and a Légion d’Honneur.
In 1968, on APES’ initiative, a special commission of the International Association of Editors-in-Chief met in Geneva. Its aim was to discuss with international organisations the creation of a universal convention on protecting journalists working in dangerous situations. Later, full texts of an agreement on this issue were approved by the International Association of Journalists. With this move, APES helped get the question onto the agenda of a U.N. General Assembly debate in 1970. After long discussion and debate, in 1977 an article was approved and added to the Geneva Conventions on the protection of civilians during armed conflict.
For years, the APES Committee fought for the right for Association members to be granted the status of accredited correspondent, like their colleagues in most other European countries. However, it was not until late in 1977 – two years after the Helsinki East-West agreements whose signatories among other issues agreed on easing the work of foreign journalists – that the Swiss government decided to accredit correspondents and to issue them with a press accreditation. The situation seemed to have been settled, but soon it became apparent that this “green card” was not recognised by the Swiss cantons, meaning that foreign journalists were still facing the same discrimination as they had before. The situation became tense, and at a meeting in 1978, then APES president Aldred Zanker told Swiss government minister Pierre Aubert that Switzerland’s information policy violated its democratic traditions and its international obligations.
It was only in 1979, after the old Federal Political Department became the Foreign Affairs Department (DFAE) in 1979, that official regulations were issued, bringing welcome improvements for the foreign media. This text was modified in 1992 to specify that the DFAE maintains “privileged relations” with APES. The new text, which can be consulted on the Department’s website, further declares: “APES is the department’s prime partner in all questions relating to foreign media representatives in Switzerland, whether they are members of APES or not.”
Today APES maintains good relations of partnership and mutual understanding with all levels of federal authority. Thanks to their many years of cooperation, Presence Suisse, the DFAE division responsible for promoting the country’s image abroad, organises an annual press journey focussing on a special theme for Association members. They also make a regular visit to Berne at the invitation of the Federal Chancellery to attend parliamentary sessions and discuss with officials how the government handles information. Another long-time APES partner, Switzerland Tourism, also organises media tours for the Association focussed on the country’s cultural and social life, and on its history.
For the past 30 years, the Swiss Bankers’ Association has been holding an annual seminar on banking issues for APES. APES also enjoys good ties with the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland, the Private Bankers’ Association, the Geneva Financial Centre, and the Swiss National Bank which ensure that its members have direct access to information on the country’s key banking industry.
In 2003, APES set up an annual prize to honour a Swiss personality or organisation enjoying good relations with the media and chosen by its members. Among the laureates have been former Swiss president Adolf Ogi, political figure Jean Ziegler, ICRC president Cornelio Sommaruga, former Federal Chancellor Achille Casanova, parliamentarian Dick Marty, and artist and sculptor Hans Erni. The last recipient, in 2010, was Switzerland Tourism, in witness of the appreciation of its work among APES members.
Today APES has excellent relations with many Swiss institutions as well as international and foreign bodies based in Switzerland. These include the Swiss Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the Mission of Liechtenstein, the authorities of both the City and the Canton of Geneva, the Swiss Press Club, the United Nations Correspondents’ Association-ACANU, the Geneva International Centre-CAGI, the European particle physics research organisation CERN, the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, with major academic institutions like the Geneva Institute of Higher International Studies, the European Institute of the University of Geneva, the Lausanne Polytechnic, the University of St.Gallen, with multinational companies Nestle and Novartis, and with the International Air Transport Association IATA.
In January 2015, APES had 130 members, among who 117 were full members, including the correspondents of major international news agencies, newspapers, journals and radio and television organisation, as well as reporters of “new media” operating their own websites and blogs.
The Association is proud to include among its members many journalists who are major personalities in their home countries. In 2012, Mexican journalist Kyra Nunez was awarded the “Rosario Castellanos Medal”, bestowed by the government of the state of Chiapas for her role in the cultural and humanitarian development of the region. In 2013 Jamil Chade, APES President 2003-05 and correspondent of the Brazilian daily Estado de Sao Paulo, was honoured in his country as Brazil’s best foreign correspondent of the year.
Many members of the Association are writers, publishing books on topical current themes. One of these is the Danish journalist Anne Mette Skipper, whose “Switzerland, the Banks and Dirty Money” won wide critical acclaim. Alexander Casella wrote “Breaking the Rules” on working in international organisations, and more recently “Chronicles of a Swiss Wanderer.” Freddy Mulongo from the Democratic Republic of Congo has written two books on the long conflicts in his country, while Frankfurter Allgemeine’s man in Geneva Juerg Altwegg has published several volumes on recent Swiss history. Argentine journalist and investigative reporter Juan Gasparini has written widely on his own country and on issues involving Argentina and Switzerland. He has won both the Spanish Rodolfo Walsh literary prize and the Swiss Nicola Bouvier prize.
So, in its 88 years of existence APES has proven its importance, remaining still true to its aim of defending the professional interests of its members and helping them carry out their work in Switzerland in the best possible conditions.
by Emilia Nazarenko
English translation – Robert Evans