Wednesday 24 July 2019

The broadcast charge is a new raid on incomes

The Government has learned nothing from last year

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White TD
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White TD

Eilis O'Hanlon

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. The Government was supposed to have drawn a line under 2014 and be facing into a new year with a clean slate.

The last year was its annus horribilis. Now minister Alex White reveals that, far from shelving the proposed broadcasting charge, it's going full steam ahead.

Unpopular extra taxes that a stretched public don't want to pay. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Even White's predecessor, Pat Rabbitte, would've struggled to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse. Marches. Ministers trapped in cars by angry mobs. Plummeting polls. Is any of this sounding even vaguely familiar, guys?

Ever the optimist, White's contention seems to be that this isn't a new tax, merely a replacement for the license fee. Try telling that to the viewing public when the bills drop onto the doormat. There's a simple bottom line. Is the amount that we have to pay going up or down? If it's going down, you can probably sell it as a good thing. If it's going up, or even staying the same, then forget it. We've had it with being made to pay for things we're already getting.

The amazing thing is that the Government knows all this. It shelved the broadcasting charge for this year because it didn't want the bills coinciding with the water charges. Why is it suddenly going to be any more palatable in 2016? Lest it's forgotten, that happens to be an election year. Unless it has secret information that the Celtic Tiger's about to make a comeback in the next 12 months, and we're all going to be so flush that we don't miss a few extra quid, then going to the electorate at the same time as you're introducing a new tax is about as wise as asking the missus if she fancies renewing your marriage vows after she's just caught you in bed with the Swedish au pair.

"But it's not a new tax," it'll insist again, "it's simply a replacement for…" Yeah, yeah, we get it. But check this out. The Government is introducing a new tax. That's how easy it's going to be for the Opposition to paint the broadcasting charge as a fresh assault on the purses of a hard-pressed nation. New tax. There, I just did it again. In order to counter that narrative, the Government's going to be constantly on the defensive. And when you're explaining, you're losing. Which isn't going to be easy when they're still not reforming the lumbering dinosaur that is RTE. If you're going to make us pay through the nose for the State broadcaster, at least put in the effort of trying to transform the institution into something slightly less objectionable.

Somewhere in Leinster House, there's probably some bright young spark advocating that they dub this whole thing the Love/Hate tax, on the grounds that quality broadcasting doesn't come cheap. The problem is that, for every Love/Hate, there's a dozen outings for certifiable rubbish like The Voice Of Ireland.

Everyone knows that any extra money RTE receives will be spent on it poaching overpaid DJs from rival stations so that executives in Montrose can win a big mickey contest when they bump into their rivals in the gents at L'Ecrivain. They should just call it the Ray D'Arcy tax and be done with it.

It can't have escaped anyone's attention either that this new tax is going to be brought in by a Labour minister. How much lower does Labour have to go in the polls before getting the message? Fine Gael probably can't believe their luck. Why commit political suicide yourself when there's always some sucker on the other side of the Cabinet table who'll do it for you?

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