TV producers call for licence fee collection to switch to Revenue

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton signals idea is being explored

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Irish television production companies are urging new Minister for Communications Richard Bruton to move forward on licence fee reform, saying the Irish content sector “will continue to suffer” if the Government does not act.

Screen Producers Ireland, which represents independent producers, is backing an Oireachtas committee’s proposal to give responsibility for collecting the fee to the Revenue Commissioners.

The Minister confirmed in the Dáil last week that the Government is still exploring the possibility that the €160 annual licence fee could be collected by Revenue, or that it might invite private companies to tender to replace An Post as the collection agent.

A working group set up in July also continues to examine the possible replacement of the fee with a household broadcasting charge not tied to the use of a television set.

The Minister, who replaced Denis Naughten in the role in October, said in a written answer to a number of parliamentary questions last week that the working group would report to him in the first quarter of 2019. “I will revert to Government at that stage,” Mr Bruton said.

The working group is chaired by his department and also comprises senior officials from four other departments and Revenue.

An Oireachtas communications committee concluded in November 2017 that the current licence funding model was “not fit for purpose” and should be replaced by a household charge collected by Revenue.

Schedule gaps

Mr Bruton’s remarks come as Screen Producers Ireland, led by chief executive Elaine Geraghty and chaired by former Green Party leader John Gormley, has sought to highlight the extent to which the funding issue affects the wider Irish production sector, beyond RTÉ.

A campaign video, shown at the Mediacon television summit in Dublin on Friday, depicts the gaps that would appear on the schedules of Irish channels were Irish production companies to go out of business.

RTÉ, which received 86 per cent of total licence fee receipts in 2017, has halved its spending on commissions from independent producers over the past decade.

The broadcaster still received €186 million from licence fee receipts in 2017, its annual report shows, while it will benefit from an €8.6 million funding boost next year as a result of measures introduced by Mr Naughten in Budget 2019.

There is “enormous pressure” on independent producers to provide quality programming at much-reduced budgets, Ms Geraghty said, but the new Minister could “make a significant difference to the future sustainability of the independent production sector” through “radical reform”.