TV licence fees left unspent

FIFTEEN euro from every TV licence holder, or €17 million in total, has gone unspent over the last two years thanks to foot-dragging by the State broadcasting regulator, it was claimed yesterday.

The IBEC-sponsored Audiovisual Federation said the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) had yet to allocate any of the money set aside in its so-called “Innovation Fund.”

Plans for the fund were floated by the government two years ago to support special independent broadcasting projects. The fund was part of the trade-off that saw the licence fee hiked from €107 to €150 and gets 5% of total licence fee revenues.

Screen Producers Ireland director Malcolm Byrne said the BCI had been expected to open the fund for applications from film and TV producers earlier this year, but that this had now been pushed out to the middle of next year.

The money had sat unused in a bank account while the BCI put procedures in place governing use of the fund, said Mr Byrne, whose body represents independent producers. He added that the BCI faced “serious questions” as to why this had happened and that independent producers would only apply to draw from the fund in mid-2005 but faced a longer wait to get to spend any of the money.

Audiovisual Federation director Tommy McCabe said the situation was “most unsatisfactory.” But the BCI said legislation governing the fund was only enacted 12 months ago. It had undertaken a public consultation with interested parties in the meantime and was now waiting on the government to give approval for its procedures. It aimed to launch the fund before the end of March.

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