TV licence fee could be linked to electricity bills, Minister says

Government focus on targeting evasion which is twice the UK rate

The current focus is to amend broadcasting legislation to address licence fee evasion in the short-term, which is twice the UK rate. Photograph: iStock

The current focus is to amend broadcasting legislation to address licence fee evasion in the short-term, which is twice the UK rate. Photograph: iStock

 

Television licence fee evasion rates in Ireland are twice what they are in the UK, the Dáil has heard. Minister for Communications Denis Naughten said evasion rates had dropped from 15.3 per cent in 2013 to 14.6 per cent currently but were “still very high” and “unacceptable”.

Using the Revenue Commissioners to collect television licence fees is one of the options available for long-term funding of public service broadcasting, he said.

Some countries used licence fees and others funded public service broadcasting from taxation or charging a fee linked to electricity bills.

But the current focus is to amend broadcasting legislation to address licence fee evasion in the short-term, which is twice the UK rate.

Mr Naughten pointed out that nine per cent of households had indicated they did not have a television. That figure “is not surprising given the change in devices used for viewing content”.

He said the proportion of the population who listened to radio “is probably higher in Ireland than anywhere else in the world.

“Moreover community radio is thriving to a greater extent than anywhere else on the planet.”

Mr Naughten told Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells that a range of funding models were under consideration, including Finland’s which used a broadcasting tax in place. Other EU countries linked fees to electricity bills.

Mr Cassells who raised the issue during Communications question time in the Dáil said that the 14.6 per cent evasion rate was equivalent to lost revenue of €40 million.

The Meath West TD said “the uncollected fees for television sets exceed RTÉ’s annual losses”.

He added: “This means other must pick up the tab for those who do not pay.”

He highlighted however the €6.5 million reduction in the Government’s grant to RTÉ because the licence fee income was lower than anticipated.

That was equivalent to 40,000 licence fees of €160 each. He said the fee had not increased since 2008 but the number of households had risen in the past decade.

The broader question was the State’s commitment to public service broadcasting and Mr Cassells asked if the State was to “embrace the commercialisation of broadcasting”.

He did not believe Ireland would go down the same road as the US “where President Donald Trump tunes into Fox News to make sure he is doing okay”.

If they went the commercialisation route then coverage of events such as the 1916 commemorations and sporting events like the International Rules games between Ireland and Australia would cease, along with coverage of the ardfheiseanna of all the main political parties.

Mr Naughten said he looked forward to receiving the report of the Oireachtas Communications committee on the future funding of public service media.

The Minister said he was committed to public service broadcasting. “While I have accepted that this comes at a significant cost, we are very lucky in terms of the way in which news content is disseminated in this country and the balance it provides.”