RTÉ calls for licence fee reform as broadcast charge scrapped

Independent broadcasters say ‘efficient and cost effective’ method of collection needed

The broadcasting charge, which was intended to cover changing technologies such as the use of mobile devices like the iPad, above, has been parked by the Government. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

The broadcasting charge, which was intended to cover changing technologies such as the use of mobile devices like the iPad, above, has been parked by the Government. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

RTÉ has called for urgent reform of the TV licence fee following the decision of Minister for Communications Denis Naughten not to proceed with plans for a new public service broadcasting charge.

The charge would have been paid by all households in the country, regardless of whether or not they owned a television.

It was intended to reflect the changing patterns of consumption of audiovisual content and to cut down on the level of evasion under the current system, which is estimated to cost up to €40 million in lost revenue per annum.

Mr Naughten said the plan would have had no chance of being passed by the current Dáil, and that the Government will therefore not introduce legislation on the issue.

Instead, his priority would be to try to maximise the collection of the existing licence fee.

“RTÉ very much welcomes the Department’s recognition of the challenges facing the existing licence fee system - in particular the high evasion rate - and we look forward to discussing the range of options available,” the broadcaster said in a statement on Tuesday.

Despite reducing its operating costs by 30 per cent, RTÉ’s financial position remained “very challenging”, the statement said, due to the ongoing decline in public funding.

“RTÉ is on the record as saying that urgent reform of the collection system is required, and that such reform is vital to safeguard Ireland’s public media sector, the independent production sector, and jobs in the creative economy.”

John Purcell, chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland said the decision had been “dragging on for years. At least we know where we are now.”

Mr Purcell said the TV licence was a costly and ineffective way of collecting money.

“Evasion levels in Ireland are twice those in the UK. It costs € 1million a month to collect.

“A more efficient and cost effective way of collecting the licence should be found and that money should then be used to fund public broadcasting services no matter who the broadcaster is.”

Screen Producers Ireland, which represents the independent audiovisual production sector, has also called for reform of the licence fee system, to address the high evasion levels.

“Strong public service Broadcasting is vital to the strength and stability of the indigenous production sector and SPI urges Government to deal with this important issue as a matter of urgency,” the organisation said recently.

Former minister for Communications Alex White told the Seanad last year that the new charge’s introduction was “inevitable”, while outgoing director general of RTÉ Noel Curran said in April that the regulation of public service broadcasting in Ireland was “broken”, with funding cut by more than €15 million since 2010.

Three consecutive recommendations by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) saying that RTÉ’s public funding should be increased have been ignored, he said.

The contract to collect the licence fee is currently held by An Post, with the most recent estimate of the evasion rate at 13.75 per cent.

In correspondence with the Department of Communications, RTÉ has described An Post’s performance as “disappointing and below target”.