RTÉ director to say a seven-year wait for new broadcasting charge is ‘untenable’

Forbes to blame outdated legislation on many households getting public services on online devices but not paying annual €160 fee

RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes is expected to tell the Oireachtas Communications Committee that RTÉ knows it must take action to remain “sustainable and relevant”

RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes is expected to tell the Oireachtas Communications Committee that RTÉ knows it must take action to remain “sustainable and relevant”

 

A possible seven-year wait for a new broadcasting charge to replace the television licence fee is “untenable”, RTÉ’s director general is expected to tell an Oireachtas committee on Tuesday.

Dee Forbes and other RTÉ executives will appear before a session of the Oireachtas Communications Committee on the future of public service broadcasting.

The invitation for the executives to appear before the committee predated the national broadcaster’s recent announcement of a cost-cutting programme which envisages €55 million in cuts and up to 200 job losses.

However, the announcement is expected to feature strongly at the committee hearing. The opening statement is expected to be delivered by Ms Forbes, although her name was not on the document sent to the Oireachtas committee.

Earlier this year Minister for Communications Richard Bruton announced that the collection of the licence fee would be put out to tender, raising the prospect that An Post could lose the collection business.

The successful bidder will be awarded a five-year contract. Once this period has elapsed, the licence fee will be replaced by a “device-independent broadcasting charge” designed to capture households consuming publicly-funded content on devices other than traditional television sets.

Ms Forbes’s statement criticises this approach and furthers RTÉ arguments for rapid reform of the licence fee.

She will say Mr Bruton has acknowledged the “importance” of protecting public service broadcasting.“He also acknowledged that the audiences were increasingly moving online for their media consumption, and that the licence fee system would need to adapt accordingly.

“However, the remedy proposed was that the licence fee collection would be put out to tender, and that the term of contract would be for a five-year period. Given that the collecting agent would likely be contracted from 2021 onward, this would in effect delay the transition to a media charge for close to seven years from the point of announcement.

Households

Ms Forbes blamed “outdated legislation” for the fact that many households do not pay the annual €160 fee but can still consume public service programming on online devices.

“That is completely untenable. Evasion is now almost 13 per cent, resulting in the loss of €25 million per year,” she will say.

“Ireland’s TV licence system is irrevocably broken, and is no longer capable of properly sustaining public service broadcasting or Ireland’s broader audio-visual and creative sector.”

However, she said that RTÉ knows it must take action to remain “sustainable and relevant”.

“RTÉ has made significant changes to the organisation in recent years, but the way that media is being consumed by audiences everywhere is changing, and we need to evolve if we are to meet our audience needs effectively.”