Almost seven years. It was so long ago that evening in Zug, this enigmatic story about the politician Jolanda Spiess-Hegglin and the politician Markus Hürlimann, which ended with Spiess-Hegglin having himself examined in the hospital. and the unprecedented media battle that followed and where it was never clear who was supposed to be the perpetrator and who was the victim.
That night shortly before Christmas made a big difference: it kept large parts of the Swiss media industry busy for years. Two people’s political careers have been destroyed. Courts are still dealing with the consequences. But above all, this night hardened the fronts between two women so much that their argument has divided the Swiss public for years.
On the one hand, there is Jolanda Spiess-Hegglin, the ex-politician and today’s activist, who has been fighting against hatred on the internet and against personal injury by the media since her experiences around the Landammannfeier in Zug – often loudly and sometimes polemically. And there is Michèle Binswanger, journalist at Day indicator, the Zurich daily newspaper that belongs to the Tamedia publishing house and with which the Southgerman newspaper cooperates. Binswanger wrote repeatedly about the Zug Landammannfeier, mostly critical of Spiess-Hegglin.
Well lies the most recent judgment in the dispute that has now been going on for years. As the higher court in Zug announced on Monday, it has lifted a publication ban on Binswanger. The previous instance had imposed this on a book project by the journalist, with reference to the very likely violation of Spiess-Hegglin’s personal rights. The higher court now holds that there is not enough evidence.
Publication ban? What kind of weapons are they used to fight here? The short answer: For a dispute that is primarily about words, they are pretty big guns.
On the evening of December 20, 2014, the Landammannfeier will take place in Zug, a festival in honor of the district president. Jolanda Spiess-Hegglin is also taking part, she was 34 years old at the time and had just entered the cantonal parliament for the Greens. Photos show how she is talking to her MP colleague Markus Hürlimann there. According to her, Spiess-Hegglin wakes up the next morning without memory, but with abdominal pain. In the hospital, she suggests that she got knockout drops. The police are investigating a sexual offense, Hürlimann is temporarily arrested. A media mud battle follows. What happened in the evening could not be clarified. The proceedings against Hürlimann are discontinued due to a lack of evidence; He reaches an out-of-court settlement with Spiess-Hegglin, whom he has sued for false accusations. The public prosecutor certifies that they did not do anything wrong with their assumption. Isabel Pfaff
A meeting with Jolanda Spiess-Hegglin in Oberwil, a suburb of Zug. The 40-year-old lives here with her husband and three children. In her office she serves espresso and says, “This topic is about my inner trauma.” She means the evening of the Landammann celebration. At the beginning of 2020 she found out that Michèle Binswanger would write a book about it and focus on Markus Hürlimann’s perspective.
Michèle Binswanger asserts that she did not want this argument
Your personal rights have already been grossly violated, says Spiess-Hegglin, and the courts have confirmed that. “Michèle Binswanger and Tamedia have to understand that you can’t just pass my privacy around.” Spiess-Hegglin was able to stop the book project as a precautionary measure by court order in May 2020, and the cantonal court confirmed the decision in September. Now the higher court has decided differently.
Telephone conversation with Michèle Binswanger. The wiry woman is a figurehead of the Day scoreboard. For her Mom blog she was named Swiss Journalist of the Year in 2010, followed by several awards as a society journalist. Among other things, the jury praised her “self-confident feminism without political correctness”.
She is happy about the verdict, says the 49-year-old. Now she and her superiors will see what happens to her book. “The manuscript exists, but it’s not finished yet.” Binswanger still thinks it is important to roll over the aftermath of that night. “Ms. Spiess-Hegglin has aggressively discussed her view of the case in the media and has repeatedly spoken publicly about private matters. I think it’s important to finally talk to the second victim: Markus Hürlimann.” She is dealing with the case as a journalist, asserts Binswanger, she was not looking for this argument.
What is happening between the two women is, you have to put it that way, a kind of feminist disaster. An award-winning journalist, who is considered an important female voice in Switzerland, and an activist who defends herself against dirty and often sexist reporting.
In July, the Basel public prosecutor sentenced the journalist to a suspended fine for defamation
There are now several legal proceedings between them. Firstly, there is the ban on publication, which Spiess-Hegglin is likely to challenge before the Federal Supreme Court. The second relates to a tweet from Binswanger: Because she had accused Spiess-Hegglin of continuing to accuse Hürlimann of rape, Spiess-Hegglin had reported Binswanger. In July, the Basel public prosecutor sentenced the journalist to a suspended fine and a fine for defamation. Binswanger and her media company are contesting the decision. Meanwhile, the skirmishes the women and their respective supporters engage in on social media continue. Again and again they refer to each other, everyone like, every retweet is registered by the other side.
How could it come to this?
If you ask Jolanda Spiess-Hegglin, she goes a long way. Tells about Binswanger’s first articles about her, about sentences that hurt her deeply. It’s about the weeks and months after the Landammann celebration, when many accused her of wanting to cover up an affair with the film tear. At the time, Binswanger wrote in a comment about Spiess-Hegglin that her behavior was “not for the benefit of women”. Nevertheless, they both met shortly afterwards at Spiess-Hegglin’s home. She saw it as a background conversation, says Spiess-Hegglin, and openly presented her version of the events to her, shown files and documents. Binswanger made a portrait out of it in spring 2015 – and Spiess-Hegglin felt betrayed again. “I don’t want to have anything to do with people like that,” she says.
Michèle Binswanger holds a ban on a serious attack on freedom of the press and freedom of expression
In addition, with Tamedia, Binswanger has a powerful media company behind it. This not only supports them financially in the legal dispute, but also uses its enormous reach and attacks Spiess-Hegglin publicly in comments at. “I don’t have such a device,” says Spiess-Hegglin. She wants to continue to defend herself, as she did in 2019 with the mighty Ringier publishing house. He has meanwhile apologized to her for his reports. “I’m the first to want the evening to be cleared up,” says Spiess-Hegglin about the book. “But not from someone like Michèle Binswanger, who is simply not neutral.”
If you ask Michèle Binswanger, she says: “I just do my job.” The portrait from 2015 was very well discussed with Spiess-Hegglin. She regards banning her book without knowing what is in it as a serious attack on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which the Supreme Court has fortunately corrected. And then she also tells of violent attacks on the Internet, of hate messages from the Spiess-Hegglin camp. “Something is stuck there.”
As is so often the case, is the truth somewhere in between? Spiess-Hegglin’s tone on the Internet is often problematic for a self-proclaimed fighter against hatred, and Binswanger does not always attract attention on Twitter with reluctance. What is certain is that the dispute will continue in court. And the women agree on at least one thing: that in the end they will be right.