Proposal to break link between needing licence and owning TV
Oireachtas committee calls for significant changes in funding of public service media
The report proposes transferring responsibility for collection of the TV licence fee from An Post to Revenue. Photograph: Getty Images
The State’s television licence funding model is no longer fit for purpose, a report from the Oireachtas Committee on Communications states.
The report, entitled Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting in Ireland, proposes transferring responsibility for collection of the fee from An Post to Revenue and decoupling the connection between requiring a licence and owning a television.
It also proposes allowing domestic broadcasters to charge fees to platforms such as Sky, Virgin and eir for the right to retransmit their channels.
Speaking at the launch of the report, committee chair Hildegarde Naughton TD (Fine Gael) said changes in communications technology and the rise of social media meant alternative channels were available to users without making any contribution towards the cost of quality Irish and international content.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the report was being launched at short notice “because of the risk that the Dáil might fall” and as all the committee’s work could be lost.
Mr Ryan said it was now up to Minister for Communications Denis Naughten to act with similar urgency because the media were in real difficulty.
Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley said the increased power of social media was having an impact on the industry generally and on journalism in particular.
“Because of the importance of public service journalism we have to figure out a way to pay for it,” he said. “If we believe in public service journalism we must act now rather than in four or five years’ time.”
The report proposes that all references in legislation to “public service broadcasting” should be changed to “public service media”.
Mr Ryan said the traditional division between print and broadcast media was breaking down but that the committee had not reached agreement on what that might mean.
Noting that licence fee evasion is estimated to be costing up to €40 million per year, the report suggests that if evasion is reduced, a significant part of any additional funds raised should be directed towards supporting local radio and the independent production sector.
However, dissenting from the majority view on the committee, Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley said he was not in favour of the “heavy handed” proposal to have Revenue collect the licence fee.
Mr Ryan said the issue of allowing broadcasters to negotiate retransmission fees would allow content creators to get paid. It was up to RTÉ to figure out how that might work and it was a difficult negotiation.
Responding to the report later, Sky Ireland said RTÉ received a third of its advertising revenue from viewing on Sky platforms, in addition to the licence fee it received from Sky subscribers.
“It is unreasonable for RTÉ to charge retransmission fees on top, and unfair to expect customers to pay twice for the same service,” said Sky.