Communications Minister Denis Naughten says the current TV licence regime is “unsustainable” and there is “huge merit” in a charge that would be non-device dependent across all homes.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the Independent TD said that he would discuss the idea of Revenue collecting the new charge with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in the new year.
“I think there is huge merit in going down the road of some type of a household charge,” said Mr Naughten. “How that is going to be structured and collected is what we need to look at.”
The Oireachtas Communications Committee last month recommended the introduction of a household charge, regardless of whether there is a TV in a house. Revenue could collect this, it said. The broadcasting levy would help reduce the estimated €40m in annual losses for RTÉ, accumulated through licence fee evasion.
Money collected would also go towards independent radio and print media. Furthermore, the new charge would capture all homes consuming media regardless of the technology used.
Mr Naughten said he agreed with most of the committee’s proposals. “In the long term, the current TV licence regime can’t remain, it is unsustainable,” he said.
The Roscommon-Galway TD said that, when he became minister after the 2016 general election, he felt it would be difficult for the new minority government to progress legislation for TV licence changes, particularly after the introduction of water charges and property taxes. However, his view has changed.
“I would be of the view that it should be possible to reduce the overall charge if you increase the number of households that are going to be paying it,” he said.
A restructured charge that would also capture more homes and result in a lower levy than the current €160 a year. “That would be my intention,” he said.
“The objective is to bring in a set amount of money and if you have 100% compliance that means that the overall cost per household can come down.”
And while nine firms have expressed an interest to collect the licence fee under the current regime, including An Post, this may be an interim measure if Revenue get that job.
“I’d be quite open to that and Revenue are open to that as well and that is something that we will be exploring with Minister Paschal Donohoe in the new year,” said Mr Naughten, adding that the current TV licence regime could be tweaked, particularly to boost collection.
Interim legislative measures for this will be brought to Government early next year. The fee collection process may be overhauled ahead of the long-term radical changes.
The minister added: “I have been looking at the existing licence structure and how we can tweak and amend that because it is going to take a bit of heavy lifting because we have to bring forward a completely new structure in relation to how we collect it and then how you distribute it.”
The newer and more long-term model is also likely to see the higher revenue collected going towards local independent radio as well as print media, the minister indicated.
“We’ll introduce the bursary for young journalists in broadcasting media,” he said. “I personally would like to see that expanded out beyond just the broadcasting media and then we are looking at the longer-term issues.”
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Naughten also made fresh pledges on the national broadband plan.