Should the TV licence be means tested?

Should the TV licence be means tested?

There is talk around the role of a public service broadcaster, and how it should be funded in the age of new media.

In Ireland, public service broadcasters include RTÉ, TG4, the Houses of the Oireachtas Channel and the Irish Film Channel. Their role is to provide quality programming from all areas of the country, ensuring that news and current affairs are presented in an “objective and impartial manner“.

But despite gathering almost €180 million through the television licence fee, RTÉ is in financial difficulty. Last year it made losses of over €19 million a year.

The Oireachtas communications committee has recommended that the current licence fee of €160 be replaced by a ‘broadcasting charge’ which would charge each household that would have a device that could view RTÉ’s content (this would include laptops and smartphones).

Each year, Ireland’s television owners must pay a once off payment €160 for their television. In 2016, a total of €213.7 million was collected from the TV licence fee.

€179 million last year went to RTÉ, with €9 million extra going to TG4. RTÉ also gathered €158 million in commercial revenue. But that’s against a deficit of €19.7 million – something which they said was due to their coverage of “significant special events” including the general election, the 1916 centenary and the Olympic games.

Ireland has high rates of TV licence fee evasion – around 14% of those liable for the charge don’t pay it.

Faced with a similar problem of high rates of evasion and an unsustainable funding model, Finland decided to abolish TV licence fees, which was set at €252 a year, in favour of a means-tested tax model.

The average TV tax a person would pay amounts to around €140 a year. The change aimed to benefit low-income individuals and those who live alone, while people earning less than €10,300 a year and minors are exempt from the fee.

James Lawless, who’s a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, says that the Finnish model is quite similar to the Irish one.

He said “Some people might say I don’t watch RTE I don’t want to pay the charge, and that’s certainly an argument, but it is a public good. The same way hospitals and schools and roads are – you may not use them. But public service broadcasting is a good thing that’s essentially about protecting our cultural and democratic values.”

When asked whether the Department had considered implementing Finland’s means-tested tax, it claimed to already partly implement that approach as some people can qualify for an exemption.

So today I want to know if you would like to see a system whereby the TV or broadcasting charge would be means tested.

It would mean that those who earn less would pay less and those who earn more would pay the full amount.

It would also mean that some people who earn significantly less than others could be exempt from paying anything at all.

Would you be happy with that?

Some people will argue that a tv, phone or laptop is actually a luxury and people can choose to have it. Essentially saying that if you cannot afford the licence fee you can’t have a tv.

I understand means testing things that are necessities but not luxury items.

Why should I or you have to pay full price for a tv but someone who earns less shouldn’t have to pay at all.

I want to know what you think –

So – should the licence fee be means tested?

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