On March 4, the Swiss will vote on getting rid of the compulsory radio and television licence fee. If they say yes, Switzerland will become the first country in Europe to abolish the bulk of its public-service broadcasting.
As a former BBC journalist and recently naturalised Swiss citizen, it is a subject close to my heart.
But to date, I have heard no speech making the case conclusively for or against the licence fee.
So, I thought I would take the subject inflaming Swiss passions and apply some tried and tested formulas for constructing a persuasive speech.
They come from one of the founding fathers of speechwriting, Cicero.
A gifted Roman orator, more than 2000 years ago he came up with 5 principles for persuasive speechwriting:
1. Invention – Build your speech around a single idea or theme. Conflict can often create strong themes.
2. Arrangement – Structure your speech for maximum impact following 6 steps.
3. Style -. Choose the quotes, rhetorical techniques and stories that illustrate your points.
4. Memory – Learn and memorise your speech so you can deliver it without notes.
5. Delivery – Align your body, voice and content.
In addition, Cicero developed 6 steps for structuring a persuasive speech. Below I apply them to my theme – retaining the licence fee.
Step 1- Introduction: Establish your credibility and convince the audience to identify with your theme.
“In 7 days, the Swiss will make a historic decision on whether to abolish the licence fee used to support public radio and television. The Swiss currently pay 451 CHF a year for public service broadcasting.”
Step 2 – Narration: Outline the facts.
“The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation receives 1.2 billion CHF from the licence fee. This amounts to 75% of its annual budget. 34 regional radio and television channels receive around 81 million CHF, on average around 50% of their budget. A few years ago, the right-wing Swiss People’s party launched a popular initiative, gathering more than 100,000 signatures to scrap the licence fee. The government opposes this initiative, and so do the majority of Swiss parliamentarians.”
Step 3 – Division: Explain what is to be proven on both sides of the argument.
“Should the public continue to pay this compulsory licence fee?”
Step 4 – Proof: Make your case point by point.
” We, the government, say the licence fee:
1. Ensures equal broadcasting quality across the country’s four linguistic and cultural regions (German, French, Italian and Romansh)
2. Ensures media plurality with a diversity of viewpoints vital in a direct democracy
3. Ensures diversity of Swiss culture, with its contribution to the Swiss audio-visual and music industry.”
Step 5 – Refutation: Address the audience’s reservations by dismantling your opponent’s argument.
“You may feel that you should only pay for what you consume. You may feel that the salaries of the Director General and his team are too high. You may feel that public service broadcasting is too well funded. But there are higher issues at stake that go beyond the licence fee. If you vote for the initiative put forward by the Swiss People’s Party, it will be the end of public service broadcasting, put at risk our national cohesion and damage our cherished direct democracy.”
Step 6 – Conclusion: Sum up your strongest points and arouse emotions.
“If you believe in solidarity, diversity of views and a well-informed media, vote against this flawed initiative and support public service broadcasting.”
This structure works equally well for those taking the opposing view.
The human brain loves balance. According to neuroscience, if an argument sounds balanced, our brains assume it is balanced. Well-known British speechwriter, Simon Lancaster, says that Cicero’s structure is used in 80% of political speeches as it feeds our desire for balance.
So, for the sake of balance in this blog, the main arguments for those wanting to scrap the licence fee are that this would boost private media, stimulate the economy by increasing purchasing power and end an out-dated system in the age of the Internet and Netflix
Of course, my speech to save Swiss public service broadcasting is just at the outline stage. For it to be truly persuasive, I would have to follow Cicero’s principles number 3, 4 and 5 – namely style, memory and delivery.
Those are themes for future blogs, for now I must go and catch the post so that my vote on this passionate subject counts!