For 74 years, CORSI, the cooperative for radio and television in Italian-speaking Switzerland, has been overseeing public radio and television programming in the Ticino Canton. In an era when television has a massive influence on democracy, the cooperative’s experience offers a fascinating story.

The cooperative was founded in 1938 with the aim of increasing transparency and the local community’s participation in the public provision of information. It took over from a public company which had been highly criticized and investigated for some undemocratic decisions. From the beginning, CORSI was licensed by the Swiss Confederation to provide radio and television services and it has spent the last seven decades giving voice to Switzerland’s Italian-speaking minority. A rare free voice in the heart of Europe during the Second World War, in subsequent years it also served as a umbilical cord for Italian emigrants. With dedicated broadcasts and the presence of Italian celebrity guests, the radio and television services helped emigrants feel a bit closer to home and also introduced the Swiss to the emigrants’ country of origin.

Throughout these years, CORSI made significant technological improvements, always staying at the cutting edge, and increased its broadcast channels. There are currently three radio stations and two television networks, which for the population of the Ticino Canton (around 320,000) are the main source of broadcasted information.

With the growth of the economic importance of communication, especially television, CORSI changed its role. Since 2009, the radio and television service concession calls for a more distinct division between the technical and operational management and the supervisory role. From that year, the cooperative ceased to be responsible for programming and management control and became instead a supervisory body, engaged in strengthening the link with the local community and checking the quality of the television programming, including creating a lively debate around the role of public radio and television services in society.

The members, numbering around 2,500, elect the governing bodies. They are composed of representatives from civil society and business organizations (including the consumers’ union, the university, the parents’ association and the manufacturers’ association) and while they still have a consultational role regarding management matters, their role principally concerns the quality and integrity of the programming.

The diffused ownership leaves a democratic stamp on all the activities of the radio and television stations, because the supervisory bodies are nominated by the people rather than politicians. The Public Council is also appointed by the people, and its composition must reflect “the main cultural and spiritual currents in Italian-speaking Switzerland”. Its task is to oversee the public function of the broadcasts, to orient and evaluate programmes and to document its activities with an annual report, publicly distributed and debated.

Two key roles support the cooperative’s work. The general secretary has a more technical function, and has the responsibility of promoting members’ participation, organizing meetings and initiatives around the canton. The mediator is elected by the Public Council and is the person to whom all citizens (members or not) can direct complaints about the quality of radio and television broadcasts and any other grievances.

Among the projects to which CORSI dedicates particular attention is the OSI, the orchestra of Italian-speaking Switzerland. Though the orchestra is not technically part of CORSI, the cooperative provides it with much support because it is a powerful tool for disseminating musical culture in the canton.

The cooperative also publishes a newsletter (Per.Corsi). Close to 100,000 copies are distributed around the canton, providing news, information and reflections relating to the cooperative but of interest to the whole community.