Broadcast charge 'unlikely next year'

 

The proposed household broadcasting charge set to replace the television licence fee is not likely to be ready by next year, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has said.

Mr Rabbitte said his department is committed to examining the role and collection of the licence fee and to transforming it into a household-based charge under the Programme for Government.

He said difficulties in establishing a suitable database of households in the country means it would be “ambitious” to say the new charge would be in “place for next year”.

The existing system and the efficacy of collection need to be examined because of changes in technology and the continued evasion of the TV licence, Mr Rabbitte added.

“A huge number of the population now get their news not from sitting down and watching the nine o'clock news but accessing the arrangements that the public service broadcaster has put in place.

“There is and continues to be significant evasion - anywhere between 14 and 18 per cent or in excess of €25 million in lost revenue - from failure to collect from people who do have a television but don’t pay the existing licence.”

“Those of us that believe in public service broadcasting need to ensure that in the future there is a sound financial framework for supporting public service broadcasting,” he told RTÉ radio this morning.

He said his department is examining how to levy and collect the charge, but he denied it would be is an additional tax on households, saying anyone who currently pays their existing licence had “nothing to fear”.

The Minister hinted the new charge could be less than the current TV licence fee of €160.

“Clearly if there is evasion at the moment and if I can put together a public broadcasting charge that is more effective then I think it won’t be more than the existing TV licence . . . but it could be less.”

Mr Rabbitte admitted it would be difficult to “strip out” households that genuinely don’t have a television or computer from those simply evading the licence. He said proposals would have to be run past the attorney general to make sure they are as “legally firm as possible”.

Currently An Post has an annual contract worth €12 million for the selling and collection of the television licence. A spokeswoman for the company said some 1,021,443 licences were sold last year.

This evening Independent Broadcasters of Ireland welcomed the introduction of the new charge but said the Minister should use it as an opportunity to do a full review of the funding of broadcasting in Ireland.

“It is inconceivable that any change to the current TV licence system would not involve a review of how the funding is used,” the group said in a statement.

It called for revenue collected from the new charge to be apportioned to fund the operations of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, to “benefit every broadcaster in the country regardless of whether they are community, commercial or state-funded”.