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Monday 16 September 2019

Add new broadcast charge onto household utility bills – RTÉ chief Dee Forbes

Dee Forbes, RTE director general
Dee Forbes, RTE director general
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

A new household charge to replace the current €160 TV licence fee should be introduced through utility bills, RTÉ boss Dee Forbes has said.

Adding the charge on to a gas or electricity bill will be efficient and easy, Ms Forbes said.

“A system linked to utility firms collecting a household media charge” is a tried and trusted solution elsewhere, she said.

Her intervention comes as Communications Minister Richard Bruton said he cannot see how laptops and phones will be detected under the new law, leaving the prospect of a flat general household charge more likely.

Asked about the use of debt collectors as part of a new “get tough” or “robust” collection contract tender to be put out by the Government, Mr Bruton said that it would “be managed within acceptable norms” but that an “enforcement system is an integral part of an effective collection charge”.

Minister Bruton said that even though the new broadcast charge will include a wider range of digital and tech devices, the Government doesn't yet know whether enforcement is possible under GDPR.

"You have me there," he said, when asked about detection of such devices in the context of data privacy law.

Mr Bruton was also unable to clarify whether any household in the country would be able to legally avoid the new charge.

"We will have to work out the definition of a device-independent charge," he said.

At present, one in 10 households avoids the €160 TV licence fee by not having a traditional television set. The Government wants to cut this down by making devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones liable for a replacement broadcasting charge.

Government sources insist that the replacement for the licence fee is "not necessarily" a household charge, even though industry figures show that the vast majority of Irish households have either a television, smartphone or laptop.

Ms Forbes said she welcomed Minister Bruton's move to tighten up TV licence collection fees by shifting to another collection system and said adding the licence fee to household utility bills could be a way forward.

"This has happened in other markets," she said on RTÉ's 'News At One'. "Italy had a very positive collection rate. They linked it to electricity and compliance was at such a level they ended up reducing the licence fee.

"A system linked to utility or... revenue collecting a household media charge" was appropriate, she added.

Mr Bruton confirmed that the new charge would carry the same waivers for old-age pensioners and other exempted categories of citizens. He also signalled that the new charge will remain a household-based one rather than applicable to individual devices.

The measures are contained in the Government's new Broadcasting Bill, which also includes new measures to crack down on the 12pc of householders who currently evade the annual licence fee.

The Government is to issue a new tender for the detection and collection of the current licence fee from such evaders.

Once the five-year contract tender is up, the State will then switch to the new household charge system.

The reaction to the announcement was mixed. NewsBrands Ireland, the representative body for national news publishers, and Community Radio Ireland welcomed Minister Bruton's acknowledgment that independent journalism is critical and the bursaries for journalists in local radio stations.

NewsBrands also called for the creation of a dedicated Minister for Media.

A spokeswoman said: “The issue of Government support for public service journalism is not a straightforward issue and requires an urgent wider debate that extends beyond the provision of bursaries for local radio journalists and addresses some of the key challenges facing Irish media, including thechilling effect our libel laws have on the media’s role as the public’s watchdog.”

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy has warned that if media charges are rolled out to every household in Ireland, the country will face water-protest style "backlash" demonstrations.

"In reality this is a household charge," Deputy Murphy told the Irish Independent.

"We could have substantial protests against this, like the water charges movement, depending on how the Government attempts to apply this charge."


Irish Independent

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