Thursday, 11 December 2014
Television Licence Fee Collection
During the early stages of the formation of the present Government and subsequently, the then Minister indicated the Government's intention to bring in a broadcasting charge as opposed to the television licence. Great play was made about the distinction between the two and what would happen within it. Even during Question Time in this Chamber, this charge was suggested. What is the status of the broadcasting charge at present? What are the plans to introduce it and will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter?
I thank the Deputy for the question. The programme for Government commits to examining the role and collection of the television licence fee in light of existing and projected convergence of technologies and to transforming the television licence into a household-based public service broadcasting charge to be applied to all eligible households and applicable businesses, regardless of the device used to access content or services. The Minister is currently considering the charge in the context of funding of public service broadcasting, arising from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's five-year review of broadcasting, including a new system of determining the adequacy of funding for public service broadcasters and a revision of the current governance arrangements for advertising minutage. In conjunction with this, the Minister is considering possible amendments in respect of certain administrative and operational issues identified in the period since the Act came into effect. Until he has given his full consideration to these matters and has brought proposals in that regard to the Cabinet for decisions, there will be no change to the current arrangements.
Would it be correct to state the plans to bring in the broadcasting charge have been long-fingered or shelved at this stage? To judge from the Minister of State's response, that is the information I can take from it. As the Minister of State mentioned in his reply, the Minister has considered it in the context of the State broadcaster and the funding for it. Are the Minister and the Department fully content with the amount of money that is going into the State broadcaster from the television licence fee? Are they satisfied it is being put to good use by the State broadcaster? It is beyond me to understand it when independent television and radio programmers can produce programmes in some instances with one-tenth of the staff used by the national broadcaster to so do. I ask whether the Minister of State is content with the manner in which the money is being spent within RTE. Moreover, I ask him to indicate, in a simple "Yes" or "No" response, whether the planned broadcasting charge has been shelved.
In respect of the spend and the money that is not being collected, there is an evasion figure of anywhere between 15% and 16%. The total amount for the television licence is between €185 million and €190 million - I believe the latter is the correct figure. I am aware, for example, that some of this money goes to the likes of TG4 and is going back into the system. Moreover, from my work in my other portfolio, I am aware that this money is going to a place where it is being well spent. As for the Deputy's question where he sought a simple "Yes" or "No" answer, in the reply I gave, the Minister has stated categorically that there will be no change at present. My own thoughts in this regard concern the complexity of the subject. We are entering a whole new world with so much changing so quickly whereby people are not even using laptops for their daily news-feeds but are using their iPhones.
Given the complexity of usage, the Minister needs to take time to reflect. If we have learned anything as a Government in the past six to seven months, it is that it is important to take time and do things properly rather than rush them.