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Aaron McKenna: The 'broadcasting charge' is a shake down – plain and simple

Using the property tax register to administer the tax is a smash and grab. Why is government allowed to do things in a manner that would probably be banned elsewhere? asks Aaron McKenna.

Aaron McKenna

FOR EVERY BUSINESS and individual in the country there are rules and regulations dictating how they may go about their activities. Usually there are restrictions in place specifically designed to prevent sharp practices, such as the plethora of highly punitive punishments for companies that breach complex data protection rules.

For example if a business gets your email address through one means or another but you opt-out of marketing communication, the company can be fined each and every promotional email they send you and everyone else. The likes of the Data Protection Commissioner and the Department of Communications take all this quite seriously. After all, the world would be full of companies ripping you off or wasting your time if your data could just be thrown around willy-nilly.

Giving the government a database

Of course, government holds itself to a different standard. Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, wants to use the property tax register to ensure that every household in Ireland receives this newfangled Broadcast Charge that will replace the TV Licence. The register was created for the specific purpose of giving the government a database from which, as the name might suggest, the property tax might be administered.

The €100 household charge last year was primarily an exercise in making punters do the running for government, which rather embarrassingly didn’t seem to have an idea of who lived where in the country until then. It was more about getting data than revenue, though perversely the private sector tends to pay to get the data rather than make you pay to provide it on pain of an appearance in front of a District Court.

Now that they’ve collected the data figures, Pat and his cadre of mandarins in Dublin 2, sure they might as well use it to help them collect another tax. Pat reckons that the new broadcasting charge will bring in another €30 million from households he reckons are skiving on their TV licenses.

BAI research tells a different story

This is despite the fact that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland released research only this week showing that nearly 10 per cent of us aren’t accounted for in watching public service television. Minister Rabbitte says that “People claiming that they neither have a TV nor do they ever access any public service content, I think one has to look at that somewhat sceptically.” Or, as we used to say when we were five years old, “Because I said so.” (Or sometimes simply shortened to “Because”.)

There it is: evidence based policy-making. Oh well. Pat and his boys want their extra €30 million out of the pockets of households in an economy that has been screwed into the ground by taxes so they can continue to subsidise the production of Fair City.

Jack up the price and spread the pain

Make no mistake: That is the purpose of the exercise pure and simple. The government, for reasons beyond re-evaluation apparently, isn’t willing to let loss-making RTÉ and its relations cut their cloth appropriate to their means. Instead of a suggestion that they really get serious about becoming self sustainable, the answer – as with the buses, as with education, as with everything else public sector – is to jack up the price and spread the pain to more families and businesses.

It is telling as to how government policy-making works once you get past all the talk of ‘making life easier’ on said families and businesses – when the problem is that there is a public sector enterprise losing money, the solution is to jack up the price.

It is also revealing that in their thinking, the government simply moves to raid the property tax register without any thought to the norms of data protection. In terms of campaigning, when we were being told to pay our €100 and give them the data they needed I wonder would they have denied any suggestion that the register would be used to help levy other taxes? I daresay that they would have told us that it was a nonsense idea.

A shake down

The new broadcasting charge is a shake down, plain and simple. It is an unfair tax in its current guise and will be even more unfair in future for the fact that the government has no basis in fact whatsoever to prove that it will be charging households that are simply using TVs on the sly. For sure, some houses are, but crime and punishment is usually based on proven guilt.

Using the property tax register to administer the tax is a smash and grab. Why is government allowed to do things in a manner that would probably be banned elsewhere? A government with that kind of sense of impunity is hard to swallow. Something you might remind politicians when they’re coming looking for votes inside the next year, with your new property tax and improved broadcast charge taking a chunk of change out of your pocket.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

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