Monday 11 December 2017

RTE boss Dee Forbes argues for TV licence increase

RTE's Dee Forbes
RTE's Dee Forbes
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

RTE Director General Dee Forbes has argued for a review and an increase of the TV license fee.

Forbes told an Oireachtas Committee uncertainty surrounding reform of the TV licence system is making it “impossible” for RTE to plan ahead for the next year.

Ms Forbes said if the TV licence fee kept pace with the rate of inflation, it would now be at €175 as opposed to the current price of €160.

This would mean an additional €15m in revenue for RTE.

“The cost of the TV licence fee hasn’t been increased in a decade and this is unlike virtually every other public or private utility to keep pace of inflation.

“Stamps have increased in price, newspapers, private TV subscriptions, phone bills, hospital fees, electricity bills, broadband, bus fares, almost everything you can think of – why not the TV licence?

She added; “If the TV licence fee had simply kept pace with inflation since it was last raised - as it is supposed to do as set out in legislation - the TV licence fee today would be €175 per household per year or 47c a day. Still just over a quarter of the cost of a national newspaper.

“That change alone would bring in an additional €15m to public service broadcasting,” she said. 

Ms Forbes told the committee reform of the TV licence system is the “responsibility of the minister, the government and the house. RTE cannot fix it. And we are reliant on it for over 50pc of our revenue.

Read more: 'It's not practical' - RTE's new director general moves to distance herself from 'double licence fee' comments

“Some commentators seem to think that we shouldn’t continue to advocate for reform of the TV licence system even though everyone knows.... that it is fundamentally broken”.

She said the lack of uncertainty around the TV licence system “are making it impossible for us at RTE ... to plan for the next year ahead, let alone the next five years as is being expected by our regulator and department.

Ms Forbes told the committee RTE are losing out on €40m each year due to evasion, and another €20m is lost each year due to TV licence exemptions, which she said are no longer reflective of how people consume TV.

She said such exemptions were created before the existence of the iPad or TV servers such as Sky Go.

Losses for the broadcaster reached around €20m in 2016 and Ms Forbes has previously made the case for an increase in the TV licence fee.

In March, Ms Forbes suggested that the TV licence fee could be doubled before backtracking on the idea, saying it “wasn’t practical”.

At the time, Communications Minister Denis Naughten ruled out a substantial hike to the fee.

RTE’s revenue from the licence fee has fallen from €440m in 2008 to €330m last year.

Last month, RTE sold lands at its Montrose campus for €107m - the lands will be developed for residential use.

Ms Forbes said the funds raised would be invested in capital projects, essential workplace improvements and reducing debt.

They are also seeking some 200 voluntary redundancies from their 2,000 strong workforce.

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