All households must pay broadcasting charge

Every liable household, without exception, will have to pay the new public service broadcasting charge.

The charge will replace the television licence towards the end of next year.

Nobody, it has been emphasised, will be able to argue against paying the charge on the grounds they do not have a television, computer, or any other device that can receive public service broadcasting.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte wants to see the charge introduced by late 2014.

He said the household charge would not exceed the television licence fee of €160 when introduced, but could not say how long it would remain at that level.

“I am giving a commitment that it won’t be higher than the TV license. I think it would be very foolish of me to start looking into the future. We will see how things go,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte also said a higher public service broadcasting charge for businesses was being considered. “People will have no excuse for not paying the charge,” he insisted at a press briefing in Government Buildings yesterday.

Mr Rabbitte was speaking prior to the publication of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s (BAI) five-year review of public service broadcasting.

Mr Rabbitte said the charge was being introduced to address the scale of TV licence fee evasion that could be about €30m.

“The purpose of the new charge is to address the evasion issue and, at almost 20%, it is significant,” he said.

“Public service broadcasting in our society is important and, therefore, it is fair, from where I am sitting, that all of us should make a contribution, not 80%. We should not have freeloaders.”

However, current TV licence exemptions will apply, he indicated.

He said a public consultation process on the public service broadcasting charge will take place over an eight to 12-week period before the end of the year.

Mr Rabbitte also revealed consultants would be sent to RTÉ to see if further efficiencies could be achieved. RTÉ said it will co-operate.

The BAI says RTÉ should receive more public funding to remain relevant in the changing media landscape but this should only take place after an examination of what further efficiencies the broadcaster can make.

Mr Rabbitte said presenters’ salaries could be included in the review as the terms of reference had not yet been set.

“There is no place barred in terms of the examination of efficiencies, if there are additional efficiencies that can be achieved.”

He acknowledged that RTÉ had already made substantial savings, having cut staff by 500 in recent years and reduced its budget by 21%. It was also one of the first public bodies to introduce paycuts.

Mr Rabbitte said RTÉ had seen its commercial revenue collapse by €84m between 2008 and 2012 — a 35% reduction that he described as “absolutely mind-boggling”.

The BAI’s review is the first such review conducted under the Broadcasting Act 2009 and evaluated multi-annual plans prepared by RTÉ and TG4 on public funding.

In relation to TG4, the BAI, together with its consultant, says its future strategy must be based on a more realistic financial framework. The station is 93% publicly funded.

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