Belfast Telegraph

‘Outdated’ TV licence fee to be replaced with device broadcasting charge

The Government is aiming to address the rapidly changing media and technology landscape and changes in the way people consume media.

Richard Bruton (Niall Carson/PA)
Richard Bruton (Niall Carson/PA)

The “outdated” traditional TV licence fee is to be scrapped and replaced with a new “device” broadcasting charge to take account of technological changes.

The Government has agreed to make changes to the licence fee system to address the rapidly changing media and technology landscape and the changes in the way people consume media.

A new five-year contract for the collection of the licence fee will be put out to tender later this year. At the end of that period the Government has agreed that the current fee should be replaced by a new “device independent broadcasting charge”.

The Government will decide the amount of the charge, with funds to be allocated to broadcasters by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton announced the changes, which are designed to ensure sustainable funding of public service broadcasting. The measures are contained in the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill.

Mr Bruton said public service broadcasting is more important than ever but it has to be recognised that the landscape in which broadcasters operate is undergoing a significant change, with audiences increasingly moving away from traditional platforms and accessing online content through devices.

“The dependence on the ownership of a television is becoming outdated and we need to move to a device independent basis for levelling the broadcasting licence fee,” he said, adding that it was clearly a “challenge” to develop and construct a new system that would take account of the move towards devices.

As a result he said the Government was “not in a position to go ahead” with the changes immediately.

“There’s a bit of work to be done to make sure that that’s robust,” he said.

He added the Government did not want to change the law only for technological changes to quickly make it “irrelevant”.

“What we want to do is create something that’s robust for the long term,” Mr Bruton said. We don’t want to be revisiting this as technology changes.”

While the details of who will be liable to pay the new charge have yet to be finalised, it will mean households with a tablet, smartphone or laptop who access content will have to pay the charge, regardless of whether they have a TV set.

It is designed to tackle evasion and ensure all those accessing content are liable for the fee.

It is estimated that about 12% of households evade the current 160-euro fee, while another 10% legally avoid paying the fee because they do not own a TV set.

Mr Bruton said there was a high level of evasion but it was coming down.

“It was 14%, it’s come down to around a little over 12%, but that is clearly a very high level of evasion, and we believe by having a new tender with a guaranteed five-year period it will give an opportunity to cut that evasion rate, as has happened in other countries,” he said.

Critics have said the planned reform will amount to a new charge on every household in the country.

Mr Bruton replied: “It’s not fair to call it a household charge until we work out the basis. What we’re trying to do is to get people to contribute and evolve from a particular device that is being superseded by others.”

He said the principle of paying for content remained the same.

Asked whether enforcement would be an issue and whether the new device charge would be workable, Mr Bruton said: “That remains to be seen. I think it can be made workable but we need to take care that it doesn’t become a leaky ship.”

He added that the Government needs to design the system is a way that people would accept.

Mr Bruton also announced a review of the Broadcasting Act, to evaluate the proportion of TV licence revenue which is allocated to the Sound and Vision Scheme, which supports the independent sector and native Irish content

The review will also consider the minimum amount of funding RTE is obliged to spend on commissioning external content. In 2018 this amounted to 39.7 million euro.

Mr Bruton said increasing this amount would provide an important stimulus to the independent production sector and that the objective of the review was to “see how we can best support original Irish content production”.

PA

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