TV3 boss lashes out at broadcasting charge plans

The boss of TV3 has lashed out at plans for a revamped public service broadcasting charge to replace the TV licence fee, claiming it is a case of “official Ireland” shoring up RTÉ’s finances.

TV3 boss lashes out at broadcasting charge plans

Householders will be hit with a replacement charge for the current TV licence at the start of 2015 — even if they do not own a television.

A period of public consultation on the proposed charge will run until Oct 8, and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said the charge was being introduced to represent greater access to public service content on new technologies and to cut the amount of money currently lost through evasion of the TV licence.

He also said there were no “cavemen” living in Ireland — everyone has access to content either through a television, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

The new charge will be the same as the current €160 TV licence fee but Mr Rabbitte said efforts would be made to increase the rate of collection — including the possibility of data being provided from other sources, such as the database of properties liable for the property tax.

David McRedmond, CEO of TV3, said the independent station would be making a submission as part of the consultation, demanding that RTÉ be “taken out of the commercial market, either substantially or wholly”.

He said the proposed charge was a case of the department, RTÉ, and TG4 “scratching each other’s backs”.

“What is completely wrong about it is yet again the department of communications has said first of all, let’s look after RTÉ,” he said.

“To a great degree the department and the minister are just out of touch here. The world has moved on. Official Ireland loves it [RTÉ] and they are all looking after each other.”

He said despite commitments made by government to greater levels of plurality within broadcasting nothing had been done, meaning commercial stations such as TV3 were operating in what he called an unfair marketplace.

Instead, he said of RTÉ: “Get your house in order, cut your cloth and deliver a service and stop whinging. The BAI, in a recent report, recommended a ‘re-balance’ of RTÉ’s commercial revenue which the minister has ignored. He has chosen to ignore what was a core recommendation in the BAI’s report and is only dealing with the one relating to RTÉ.”

RTÉ’s corporate communications manager, Vivienne Flood, said RTÉ would be making its own submission as part of the consultation process.

“License fee revenue (or public service broadcasting charge revenue) is the bedrock of being able to provide a comprehensive public media service,” she said.

“As people consume public service media by increasingly diverse means, we also see a concurrent decline in commercial revenue along with reduced levels of income from license fee due to evasion (rates in Ireland are higher than the European norm).

“RTÉ welcomes any initiative that will stabilise income in order to guarantee the ongoing delivery of a comprehensive range of public services, on television, radio and online, in performance, and the provision of regional and specialist language services.”

Asked on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland about using other sources of information on households, the minister said: “You might do that — I am certainly considering it. There is information sharing now and where additional information sharing is necessary I will bring in legislation to deal with that.

“Anybody who is paying their TV licence has nothing to fear.”

Later, a spokesman for his department said: “It is proposed that the charge is planned to be levied on occupants — rather than owners.”

Green Party communications spokesperson, Ossian Smyth, said: “You couldn’t make this tax more unfair if you tried”, adding that it pays “no heed to income or wealth”.

Q & A

Q. How much is this going to cost me?

A. The public service broadcasting charge will replace the existing TV licence and the fee is expected to be the same at €160, although Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte yesterday said it could be lowered in future.

Q. Who will be exempt?

A. Many people currently exempt will remain so, such as those on low incomes and some pensioners. At the end of last year 407,927 free licences were recorded by Department of Social Protection. However, almost everyone else will be expected to pay.

Q. What if I don’t have a television?

A. Mr Rabbitte says there are no “cavemen” in the country who do not access some public service material on some format, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, computer or TV — so you’ll be expected to cough up.

Q. Does he have a point?

A. Broadcasting Authority of Ireland figures show 85.4% of people watch television on a TV at home, but that falls to 79% of 12 to 17-year-olds.

Q. How many ‘cavemen’ — people without a TV — are out there already?

A. A parliamentary answer in May said around 42,000 people had made statutory declarations under section 147 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 that they do not have a television. Earlier this year, the Commission for Communications Regulation published its Consumer ICT survey, showing 5% of households did not own a TV.

Q. Why is this being brought in now?

A. Mr Rabbitte believes the law has not caught up with the use of new technology to cover the greater accessibility of public service content, but the other main reason is revenue — claiming about €30m is lost through non-payment of the TV licence. That equates to around 187,500 sets, but An Post estimate that 15% of liable households do not have a TV licence — a figure that has grown in recent years. The department estimates that the total number liable to hold a television licence is around 1,719,000.

Q. What if I’ve got a holiday home — do I have to pay separately for that?

A. It is thought your existing licence will cover that. The department says: “It is proposed that the charge is planned to be levied on occupants, rather than owners. In general, unless they rent/let those homes or the homes are otherwise occupied by a non-owner, the intention is that they should be covered by payment of the charge on their primary residence.”

Q. Will anyone else be unhappy about the introduction of this charge?

A. Hoteliers aren’t happy, for starters. At present, one TV licence covers an entire hotel, no matter how many televisions it has. So they can expect to start paying more, although yesterday the department said: “The proposed charge is device-independent, ie, payment will not relate to the number of devices that a particular household or business possess.

“The approach being considered is that a business’ liability may be decided based on whether it falls into the micro, small, medium-sized and above categories. This is being done in order to avoid a disproportionate burden being placed on, for example, very small businesses and sole traders.”

The Irish Hotels Federation said it rejected any attempt to impose additional charges on the hotels sector.

Q. How is this charge going to be managed and recouped from households?

A. An Post currently operates off a database but Mr Rabbitte has said since more people will be eligible for payment, more information-sharing will be required — that means the possibility of data already used for the levelling of the property tax being used for this charge.

Q. Is this already a done deal?

A. Not quite, but it will be. A period of public consultation is underway and runs until Oct 8, with anyone with any views asked to contribute. The Department of Communications expects the new regime to be in place by the start of 2015.

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