Monday 22 July 2019

Memo to the Government: the licence fee is dead, stop coming up with new versions

"Such intrusive madness was best exemplified by Pat Rabbitte’s initial attempts to introduce a Broadcasting Charge to hit people who use laptops"
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

We really are a remarkably odd little country at times.

In fact, if the Republic of Ireland was a person, it would be a grumpy adolescent prone to bouts of silent brooding broken only by the occasional temper tantrum which is seldom, if ever, related to the hissy fit.

The water tax is a perfect example of that.

We already stump up for the property tax, which is a secondary grab of something we have already paid for, with little more than a grumble. We pay the Universal Social Charge, which is simply theft, with little more than a pout.

Yet when a water tax comes along, the country loses its marbles and takes to the streets. What makes the Irish so supine one moment and then so irrationally angry the next?

Let's put it this way, nobody expects free electricity, because they understand that is essentially a manufactured product, but so is the stuff that comes out of our taps.

The conspiracy theorist in me sometimes wonders if the reason why RTÉ has been so generous in its coverage of the water protests is because it quite simply can't believe its luck.

After all, if people were going to take to the streets to vent their fury about a thoroughly unjustifiable tax, then we should be complaining about the TV licence fee - which comes with a mandatory €160 a year bill and a threat of imprisonment to those who default.

Instead, we stand mutely by while the national broadcaster, in cahoots with the State, bullies and threatens people of all ages and frames the licence fee as an issue somewhere between your civic duty and a matter for the serious crime squad.

The news that former RTÉ staffer and current Communications Minister, Alex White, is to hand over even more powers to An Post, which acts as the bagman in this legalised larceny, is just further confirmation that senior members of this administration look on the rest of us as cash cows who serve RTÉ, rather than the other way around.

White has admitted that the blanket 'Household Broadcasting Charge' (which will hit every gaff that even has a lap top) will be held over until after the next election. While they may have delayed the introduction of that charge due to political expediency, he still feels comfortable giving An Post more power to access the data banks of Sky and UPC, in an effort to chase down non-payers.

What the hell is wrong with these people? There has never been a morally justifiable reason for the licence fee and in the current multi-platform environment, it is also devoid of common sense.

Even the BBC doesn't have the brass balls to charge a licence fee while also raking in the ad revenue. But here in dear old Oireland, we're expected to pay through the nose, while also being bombarded by ads, both on TV and on the RTÉ Player.

The truly unique aspect of the licence fee is that, unlike all the other charges we have foisted upon us, there is genuinely no explanation for it. People can argue the rights and wrongs of the water, property and USC levies.

But nobody outside either the Dáil or Montrose has ever come up with a logical reason to pay up.

Instead, we have two vested interests scalping the taxpayers, not for the public good, but for the benefit of a monstrously bloated broadcasting behemoth that has never had to operate in a truly free market.

I've enquired on numerous occasions, both formally and when simply talking to some senior RTÉ people, about this bizarre situation.

Not one of them, even off the record, has been able to come up with a legitimate defence that extends any further than pay up or else. And, proving that they are as happy to bully journalists as they are the general population, there's the unspoken threat that anyone who rocks the boat on the licence fee might find their invitations to appear on RTÉ programmes drying up. Oh, the humanity!

One would hope that the Data Protection Act (1988) might provide us with some protection from these grasping tentacles of the State. But let's face it, few of us hold any trust in these institutions anymore.

Like so much Government intrusion, this is a case where a political class simply cannot grasp the idea that such things are simply none of their business. Once you have paid for your TV, and then paid for your subscription to Sky or UPC, your financial obligations end.

Such intrusive madness was best exemplified by Pat Rabbitte's initial attempts to introduce a Broadcasting Charge to hit people who use laptops.

Frankly, any government which would intrude into the privacy of your living room in such an arrogant way is only one small step from being a government which would intrude into the privacy of your bedroom.

A perfect example of this is the prosecution of non-payers (who tend to be impecunious grannies) and the utterly fatuous charge that licence 'dodgers' are guilty of 'costing RTÉ €25m a year' in lost 'revenue.'

Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

Refusing to pay your licence fee is not 'dodging', it's simply refusing to pay. And there is no cost to RTÉ's 'revenue', because revenue implies money that has been earned. This money is not earned. Instead, it is demanded with menaces.

But hark!

There is finally a political party which wants to abolish the whole ridiculous idea.

Step forward Fianna Fáil, which will propose a motion at this weekend's Ard Fheis to abolish the licence fee.

OK, they have my vote, except for one thing. They don't actually want to scrap it because it's an outrageous abuse of State power and a threatening form of legalised extortion.

No, they want to scrap it because they are angry: "At the lack of balance shown by RTÉ towards Fianna Fail."

Jesus wept. It's like watching a bunch of petulant teenagers pouting because someone was mean to them.

Which is where we came in . . .

Irish Independent

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