Minister defends Government rejection of exchequer funding for media

Catherine Martin says the system will be reformed to collect fees from households who have no TV set but watch Irish content on other devices

The Minister with responsibility for media has said an anomaly where households who pay no TV licence even though they watch Irish-produced television content on laptops or screens will be addressed by a technical group in her department.

The Minister for Tourism, Arts, Culture, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media Catherine Martin appeared before the all-party media commission on Wednesday to outline the Government response to the report of the Commission on the Future of Media.

The Government accepted 49 of the 50 recommendations made by the commission, which was chaired by Prof Briain Mac Craith. The one recommendation rejected was the central argument that public service media should be funded from central exchequer funds rather than from the current system of a TV licence.

Ms Martin defended the retention of the system where An Post collects the licence fee on behalf of Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) and other public service broadcasters. However, she said that Government recognised the need to reform the funding model to “ensure it provides for the new realities which the sector faces and importantly is sustainable”.


Among the issues that will be explored by the technical group is capturing the growing cohort of households who have no TV sets but access Irish broadcasters.

“It will report to me in November with practical steps to improve the TV Licence system to make it more efficient, sustainable and fairer,” she said.

Ms Martin defended the decision not to accept the exchequer-funded model. She said the Government took the view that by reforming the current model they could build on the existing revenue that comes from the TV licence. She also said that the Government also wanted the “minimise the perception of executive interference” that might come if it adopted a model reliant wholly on exchequer funding.

“We must also ensure the continued independence of media, and it is vital that we maintain a link between the creation and consumption of media content,” she said.

Ms Martin pointed out the Government had accepted 49 recommendations and that demonstrated its commitment to supporting the sector. She said it had adopted the recommendation of a regulator with a wider remit to address the shift in media consumption, essentially a new Media Commission, or Coimisiún na Meán, that will replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

“It will have a broader role in relation to media as well as online safety,” she said.

She said that, in particular, two of the initial commissioner posts will play a significant role: the broadcasting commissioner and the media development commissioner.

“To help Coimisiún na Meán hit the ground running, I secured funding in Budget 2022 to enable an early establishment of the new body and competitions to fill commissioner posts are currently in train.”

She said the Government also supported the recommendation for a new Media Fund to replace the Broadcasting Fund. She said legislation would be required to give effect to the new fund but that two schemes will be rolled out on a pilot basis in 2023: the Local Democracy Scheme, which will aim to ensure local media can keep the public informed on areas such as Regional Health Forums, Joint Policing Committees and local authorities; and the Courts Reporting Scheme which will enable improved reporting from local, regional and national courts.

The future of Irish-language media and broadcasting were also important components of the report. Ms Martin said she had increased funding to TG4 and would conduct a review around the provision of Irish language services.

She said the expanded Media Fund will directly benefit the print sector, especially local media.

The committee chair, Fianna Fáil’s Niamh Smyth, as well as other members focused on the issue of exchequer funding during the season. Imelda Munster (Sinn Féin) referred to the Norwegian model where State funding was used to fund media and broadcasters without any comprise of, or interference with, media independence.

Senator Shane Cassells, Fianna Fáil, argued strongly for support to newspapers and print media while Senator Fintan Warfield (Sinn Féin) argued that exchequer funding would obviate the need for 9,000 court summons issued each year for TV licence evasion, as well as the €10 million fee paid to An Post for licence collection.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times