Sunday 28 August 2016

I refuse to pay for a TV 
licence. Next stop jail?

Published 11/07/2014 | 02:30

Mr Rabbitte said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by Ms Burton’s decision to drop him from Cabinet
Mr Rabbitte said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by Ms Burton’s decision to drop him from Cabinet

So, fresh from more web-based embarrassment for Pat Rabbitte, which saw someone reproducing an old clipping from his student activist days when he was forced to deny that he was a communist, our soon to be ex-Minister for Communications has come up with a final two-fingered salute to any of us who own a telly - and some who don't.

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Like some defeated general who wants to lay waste to the ground he once occupied before retreating in ignominy and humiliation, he has decided that you, me and everyone else in this country is, to put it mildly, a pest.

In fact, our not-at-all communist politician thinks that: "Licence fee evasion is an ongoing scourge. While in the nature of things it's difficult to be exact, we estimate that it is running at over 15pc, which is more than three times the rate in our nearest neighbour. This means that around €25m to €30m of potential revenue is lost annually to RTE."

Most people reading this will simply think… so what? If they can't balance their books that's their problem, not ours.

In fact, an equally sizable proportion of the population will see this shortfall - and we have learned that this Government has all the mad maths skills of a drunken stag party trying to understand foreign currency - as nothing more than they deserve.

But anybody with an ounce of self-respect will surely recoil at Rabbitte's announcement on Wednesday: "I secured Government approval for legislation to enable An Post to access the subscription data held by TV service providers, including Sky and UPC. This will allow An Post to cross-check all those households and businesses with cable or TV services against their own database of licence fee payers.

"Given the ComReg estimate that over 73pc of 'TV households' have such services, this measure should significantly reduce the levels of evasion."

So, ain't that just grand and fine and, if you will, dandy?

I'm sure you're nearly as delighted as I am by the news that now here is another list which will feature our names on it. Just peachy - more work for civil servants to go snooping into your own private affairs. They will go after you once they discover a red flag next to your name - and they will go after you hard. That's not some weird, cranky piece of paranoia - 411 people were jailed last year as a result of their refusal or inability to pay the €160 licence fee or the fine that comes with not having one.

Rabbitte likes to talk about licence evaders as if this were some sort of criminal matter. In fact, given the weird and frankly pathetic triumph he felt at giving the authorities more power to snoop on us, you'd swear he had formed a new and super improved version of CAB to go against hardened criminals.

But they aren't hardened criminals. They are people who are doing nothing wrong, despite his argument that they are a "scourge". But a scourge on whom, exactly?

Certainly not on their neighbours or their community. This is not about drug-dealing, criminality or anti-social behaviour.

No, this is about an indefensible urge to charge people for something many of them don't want and that's the bit that Rabbitte seems either incapable of or, given his most definitely non-commie background, philosophically reluctant to acknowledge.

To these people, RTE has an enshrined right to stick every household in this country automatically for more €160 a year and, what's even better, we have an enshrined obligation to pay for it.

In other words, the parties involved are engaged in state- sponsored extortion, but rather than come around and break your legs for not paying up, they'll send you to prison instead. The method of punishment may be different, but the principle is the same. Of course, Rabbitte and RTE management seem to think a principle is someone in charge of a school, but that's their moral failing, not ours.

The only reason the powers-that-be are so inexplicably gung ho about such a ridiculous tax is because they know that, without it, RTE simply could not survive in its current form. Well, that's business, baby, as one of their popular football pundits might say.

The days of something as ridiculous as a licence fee have long passed. People now take out subscriptions with 'foreign' TV companies; plenty of people now consume much of their traditional TV fodder using a laptop. In fact, if you put in terms simple enough for them to understand what we watch and what provider or platform we use are none of their business.

The world has moved on and left both RTE and the Government looking like painfully antiquated patricians who think it fair and proper for the people of Ireland to pay for the RTE Concert Orchestra, or whatever. We're all sufficiently versed in the realities of a digital age, and a free-market economy, to understand that if you are offering a service then you can either earn your money through your customers paying willingly for that service, or you can close down.

If the national broadcaster wants to enter the 21st Century, let them survive on subscription fees and ad revenues like everyone else. TV3, Newstalk and Today FM don't receive Government bailouts, so why should RTE - which, let's not forget, also attracts the most in advertising revenue? They have the cake, they want to eat and they want us to pay.

Well, I don't pay for a licence fee and I will not pay for one, for the reasons listed above and even more that space won't allow.

So, I'll see you in court, Pat. Oh wait, you'll be gone by then.

Ian O'Doherty

Irish Independent

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