The Programme for Government commits to examining the role and collection of the TV licence fee in light of existing and projected convergence of technologies and to transforming the TV licence into a household based Public Broadcasting Charge to be applied to all eligible households and applicable businesses, regardless of the device used to access content or services.
In line with this commitment, my Department is involved in the ongoing analysis and policy development work that is necessary in advance of the implementation of any changes that may be required.
Although subject to a degree of evasion, the existing TV licence fee system has provided a stable funding base for our public service broadcasters. The rationale for providing State funding for public service broadcasting is to provide an independent and reliable income flow that allows these corporations to attain their public service objects while ensuring they can maintain editorial independence. This is especially important in the context of news and current affairs.
The overall aim of Public Service Broadcasting is to provide services and content which cater for all interests in society, while ensuring that the varied elements of Irish culture and its intrinsic values are protected. Through the obligations placed on the Public Service Broadcasters, which are established in legislation passed by the Oireachtas, and the criteria set for the funding of content through the Sound & Vision Scheme, the production of quality indigenous programming and the production of minority interest programming is strongly promoted.
Whatever the system of funding, the rationale for providing funding will continue to apply and any changes that may be implemented must continue to provide a secure funding base for public service broadcasting and content.
It is also important, of course, that any changes to the system of funding should take account of the reality of new mechanisms to access such content and services and the pervasiveness of such content in today’s society.
Publicly-funded public service broadcasting and content are now available to everyone on an ever-increasing range of platforms and devices and, in fact, access is not dependent on the ownership of a device. In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public, and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole.
The replacement of the existing funding system based on the collection of television licence fees with one based on the imposition of device-independent charge on eligible households and businesses is a complex process and the logistics involved require thorough attention. Issues such as identifying the most appropriate collection method, exemptions and enforcement mechanics require detailed consideration and all have a bearing on the timeframe for implementation.
My Department is currently carrying out a Value for Money Policy Review conducted by an independently chaired group on the proposed policy. I expect to receive a copy of the recommendations of the Value for Money Policy Review Group by the end of March.
Research undertaken prior to the establishment of the Group indicates that charges in other jurisdictions vary, for a variety of reasons, including what the charge is levied on and the method of collection, for example. National characteristics affect the model adopted, making it impossible to compare ‘like for like’ in terms of fees and charges and also in terms of the conditions attaching to the distribution of funding. I will revert to the Deputy in due course in relation to his specific queries on other jurisdictions.