Revenue tapped to collect TV licence fee

An Oireachtas committee has recommended that the TV licence fee should be collected by Revenue instead of An Post, and redesigned as “a non-device-dependent public service broadcasting charge” payable by all, including those who do not have a television.

The Oireachtas committee on communications, climate action and environment yesterday launched its report on the future funding of public service broadcasting.

Chairwoman Hildegarde Naughton of Fine Gael said the current funding model “is not fit for purpose in today’s highly technological advanced society where TV sets are no longer the only source of media contact viewing”.

Among the proposals, is the introduction of “retransmission fees” which would give RTÉ the “capacity to negotiate” these charges with cable companies that broadcast its channels.

The report says it is “imperative that measures are taken to improve the collection rate”, and says that a non-payment rate of 15% of households amounts to a shortfall of some €30m per annum. The report says the equivalent non-payment rate in Britain is below 5%.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley said the change in how media is consumed is affecting public service journalism.

“If, as a society, we believe in public-service journalism, then we have to figure out a way to pay for it, recognising that much of the commercial spend is moving towards digital platforms who don’t see themselves as publishers, don’t take the same approach to curation, or the verification of information,” said Mr Dooley.

“We can see the role that some of the digital platforms played in the recent Brexit campaign at our nearest neighbours, and we see it in the way in which some of the digital platforms were utilised in the [US] presidential campaign.

“So it’s not overstating the mark to recognise that if quality journalism is allowed to deteriorate, there is a potential impact on the democratic values of the State.”

The Green Party’s Eamon Ryan, who sits on the committee, was communication minister 10 years ago and said that while some of the report’s suggestions are not new, there is an urgency there to have them implemented that did not exist a decade ago.

“Ten years ago, Facebook and Google weren’t taking €300m out of the advertising market, that was going to existing Irish media,” he said. “Ten years ago there was no Netflix. Ten years ago most people didn’t have a smartphone. The world has changed and changed dramatically, this is not something that can wait.”

While welcoming most of the report, Sinn Féin communications spokesman Brian Stanley said his party did not agree with the proposal to assign the collection of the charge to the Revenue Commissioners.

“We are not in favour of using the heavy-handed State to collect what is, in effect, a service charge for a utility,” said Mr Stanley. “We believe there are other methods of doing that and we have put forward those suggestions.”

He said Sinn Féin would prefer that households would register for payment at point of purchase of a set, or when signing up for communication services.


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