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New report says household charge should replace TV licence - 2 years after plan was shelved

Each household that has a device that can be used to view the public broadcaster’s content would be liable for the charge.

Image: Cultura Motion via Shutterstock

A REPORT HAS recommended that the TV licence fee be replaced with a broadcasting charge which would apply to every household “consuming media, regardless of the technology used”.

This would mean any household with a device that can view public service content – that’s television stations, radio stations, websites, or the RTÉ Player – will be subject to the charge.

A broadcasting charge was first recommended by the Fine Gael-Labour government, and was due to be introduced in January 2015. But it was shelved after the newly-introduced water charges and property tax “put a lot of people off”, as the then-Minister for Communications Alex White put it.

It’s recommended that references in legislation to “public service broadcasting” should be changed to “public service media” to encompass the growth of online platforms.

A similar charge that includes all devices is in place in Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom already.

It said that this was a “feasible, efficient and practical” suggestion considering the “threats to sustainability” the current licence fee is under.

This relates to the “comparatively high level” of licence fee evasion in Ireland; suggestions made in the report claim that anti-evasion measures could yield an additional €35-40 million a year.

The Oireachtas communications committee’s report also recommends that Revenue Commissioners should collect the TV licence fee (An Post currently collect the funds), that TG4 would be returned to “more sustainable funding levels”, and that funding to independent community radio and TV stations be prioritised.

At the launch of the report, Fianna Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said there is a great cause for concern over the erosion of “quality journalism”, pointing to how some digital platforms have been accused of interfering in the Brexit campaign and the reports about interference in the US election.

If quality journalism is allowed to deteriorate it does impact on our democratic values… I don’t think we have time on our side.

“There is a very significant threat to journalism and the media in general, we must act now rather than doing it four our five years time when technology will have changed and it will be too late to act.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the revenue will go to support local radio and other operators, while the committee’s chair Hildegarde Naughton said she believed moving the licence fee collection to Revenue is the “best way of addressing” evasion and will ensure “we have good public service broadcasting for the future.”

Upon receiving the report, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten said he was grateful to the committee for their work.

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“I will examine its contents and recommendations in detail which will help inform future policy options in this area… I intend to bring proposals to Cabinet on funding options early in the New Year.”

The national broadcaster, under the new management of Director General Dee Forbes, is trying to reduce its massive €20 million deficit – seven times the amount of the previous year’s deficit.

In a statement given to the Oireachtas committee, Forbes said that the TV licence fee could be increased from €160 to €175, which she said would be in line with the average wage increase over the years.

Upon the sale of nearly nine acres of land at RTÉ’s Montrose headquarters in June of this year, Forbes said:

“RTÉ has been operating with vastly reduced commercial and licence fee income, now in the region of €330 million, compared to €440 million in 2008, and has been under-investing in the organisation for nearly a decade now. That is unsustainable.”

- With reporting from Christina Finn

Read: RTÉ to ask over 250 staff to take redundancy package

Read: RTÉ boss calls for hike in TV licence fee to €175

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