Broadcasting (Television Licence Fees Recovery) Bill 2019: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the provision of data by television broadcasting service providers for the purpose of assisting in the recovery of television licence fees; and to provide for connected matters.

In its 2018 report and recommendations on the five-year review of public funding conducted under section 124 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, highlighted the very difficult situation faced by public service broadcasters and urged the Government to take urgent, decisive and substantive action. Specifically, the BAI found that public service broadcasting and public service broadcasters faced critical and urgent challenges and it was clear the current funding situation was not sustainable. It found that, at a minimum, RTÉ should receive an increase in its annual public funding of €30 million with immediate effect on the basis that the broadcaster met certain conditions, which were strategic in nature, and had audiences at the core of its consideration. It also found that there should be an increase of €6 million per annum in public funding for TG4 over and above its 2017 public funding provision, with full effect from 2018 and onwards over the period of TG4's strategy.

In response to the BAI report, the Government has announced the TV licence fee funding system will be replaced by a device independent broadcasting charge, which will take account of technological change and will enable the sustainable funding of public service content in the longer term. However, this will take time to develop and implement and in the interim the current TV licence collection contract will be retained and is to be put out to public tender for a five-year period.

The TV licence fee evasion rate is difficult to quantify. A rate of between 12% and 14% is generally accepted. In 2018, €221 million in licence fees was collected, of which €189 million was received by RTÉ and the rest supported other public service broadcasters and independent producers. In the same year, RTÉ made a loss of €13 million. It seems clear that a more efficient collection system could increase licence fee revenue by between €25 million and €30 million, which is more than double the amount of RTÉ's annual losses. Without prejudice to any preferred permanent funding solution, data sharing between An Post or any future licence fee collector and the current TV service providers would reduce evasion rates. A simple cross-checking of lists of licence fee payers and subscribers to Sky, Virgin and others would identify those who should be paying for a TV licence but are not.

The purpose of the Bill is to confer statutory authority for such data sharing. The Bill is, by its Long Title, an Act to provide for the provision of data by television broadcasting service providers for the purpose of assisting in the recovery of television licence fees and to provide for connected matters. Section 1 inserts a new section 145A in Part 9 of the Broadcasting Act 2009. This new section is under a heading regarding the collection of licence fees and the provision of television service subscription lists. The section provides that, on being requested to do so by the TV licence issuing agent, which is currently An Post, a TV broadcasting service provider must make available such data, or information extracted from that data, as the issuing agent may reasonably require for the purpose of assisting in identifying persons who may have TV sets not authorised by a licence, and for the performance of other functions conferred on the issuing agent under the legislation. The section specifies that data made so available by the issuing agent may be processed by it for the purposes referred to in the section. The section specifies that data made so available to the issuing agent may be processed by it for the purposes referred to in the section.

Section 2 provides in standard form for the Short Title of the Bill.

Is the Bill opposed?

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.