A report on the future of the media has recommended the TV licence fee should be abolished and replaced by some form of exchequer funding for RTÉ, but there is strong resistance to the proposal in Government.
The report by the Future of Media Commission, an independent body set up last year by the Government, is understood to have concluded that the RTÉ licence fee should be scrapped, according to several sources with knowledge of its contents.
It proposes that the licence fee income – which costs television owners €160 annually and is the primary source of funding for RTÉ – should be replaced by funding directly sourced from the exchequer. One source described it as “a new public funding model... based on exchequer funding”.
However, senior Government figures are strongly opposed to the proposal. The issue was discussed at a recent Cabinet committee meeting, where it is understood that it encountered significant opposition from a number of people present, including Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe. They objected to taking on the burden of funding RTÉ on the exchequer.
There is especially strong opposition to the proposals in the Department of Finance, it is understood.
“The licence fee is the least worst option,” said one person familiar with discussions on the subject. “I think it will be with us for some years yet.”
RTÉ gets some €200 million a year in licence fee income, though the station has long complained that the rate of licence fee evasion costs it about €50 million a year. An additional €140 million of its €340 million annual budget comes from commercial activities, principally advertising.
The station has complained it is underfunded for several years and has lobbied successive governments for additional cash. The commission, chaired by Prof Brian MacCraith, was set up a year ago to examine the future of the media sector, including broadcasting and newspapers.
There has been widespread speculation that a previous proposal for a “broadcasting levy” applied to every household – rather than only those with a television – would be resurrected. However, there are fears this would arouse significant public opposition akin to the water charges experience. The report is expected to be published in the coming weeks.
“The commission has completed its work and submitted their report to the Taoiseach and the Minister,” a spokesman for the Minister for Media and Culture Catherine Martin said. “They are considering the contents and intend to bring it to Government after this. The report will then be published after being considered by the Government.”