The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton T.D. today (Friday the 2nd of August) published the Broadcasting Bill which includes a number of measures to support local community radio, reducing the levies placed on independent broadcasters. The Minister today also announced changes to how the T.V. licence fee will be collected now and into the future and a review of the Broadcasting Act.
Minister Bruton said:
“Public service broadcasting is more important now than ever. Independent, objective reporting of domestic and international affairs is crucial. However, we must recognise that the landscape in which broadcasters operate is undergoing a transformation and that this gives rise to new challenges. Audiences are transitioning away from traditional platforms and are increasingly accessing content online through digital mediums.
“Today, I am publishing the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019. This Bill will enable the broadcasting levy to be reduced for all broadcasters and for some community broadcasters to be exempted entirely. It allows for the creation of a new funding scheme that would allow the granting of bursaries to journalists in local or community radio stations. We must support our local community radio stations and independent broadcasters.”
The Minister today also announced that the Government will accept the recommendations of the Working Group on the Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting and will be putting the collection of the T.V. licence fee out to public tender later this year. This will allow a 5 year contract for the service to be put in place, allowing the successful bidder the opportunity and the incentive to invest in the system of collection.
The Government has also agreed that at the end of the 5 year contract period, the licence fee should be replaced by a device independent broadcasting charge which takes account of technological change and will enable the sustainable funding of public service content in the longer term. It is estimated that 10% of homes access content on alternative devices which do not require a television licence.
Minister Bruton said,
“Most people pay their T.V. licence fee. However, we still see approximately 12% evasion which we need to address. By tendering for a contract of 5 years, this will allow the awarded body the chance to invest in a robust collection service.
“It is also clear that due to the nature of technological change and the movement towards digital devices, the design of the T.V. licence fee will have to change. This is a fundamental reform that will take time to develop, but it will future proof the funding model, taking account of changes in technology and in how content is now consumed.”
The current provision of free TV licences to those in receipt of the Household Benefits Package will continue. The option of purchasing TV licences at post offices will remain regardless of who the successful awardee of the contract is.
Finally, Minister Bruton is today also announcing a review of the Broadcasting Act, to evaluate the proportion of the T.V. licence revenue which is allocated to the Sound and Vision Scheme which supports the independent sector and native Irish content. The review will also consider the minimum amount of funding that RTE is obliged to spend on commissioning external content. In 2018 this amounted to €39.7m. Increasing this amount would provide an important stimulus to the independent production sector.
Minister Bruton said,
“The objective of this review will be to see how we can best support original Irish content production.”
Notes to Editor
The Government has increased exchequer funding to both Public Service Broadcasters in 2018 and 2019. In this period, an additional €10 million has been made available to RTE and TG4 has received almost €2.5 million in additional on-going funding, as well as a once-off capital grant of €985,000 for Bliain na Gaeilge in 2018.
Working Group on the Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting
In July 2018, the Government decided to establish a cross-departmental Working Group on the Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting to examine options for the collection of the TV licence fee or its replacement, including but not limited to collection by the Revenue Commissioners, tendering for licence fee collection; and replacement of the licence fee with a Broadcasting Charge or a variation. These terms of reference took account of the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting of November 2017. The Group reported to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in April 2019.
The Recommendations of the report were:
1. That the TV licence be put out to public tender as soon as the enabling legislation, the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill, is enacted. It will be necessary to offer a fixed term contract of 5 years in order to make it feasible for the successful tender to invest in database and collection improvements;
2. That at the end of the contract period, the licence fee should be replaced by a device-independent charge to support public service content on a sustainable basis.
The Working Group’s report will be redacted for commercial sensitivity and published on the Department’s website shortly
Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019
The Broadcasting Amendment Bill has been approved by government and will be presented before the Dáil in the Autumn.
The key provisions of the Bill are:
– To allow the BAI to accrue a level of working capital so that it can meet its day-to-day operational requirements;
– Allow for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to be allocated public funding from television licence fee receipts;
– Give greater flexibility to the BAI in granting exemptions and deferrals to the Broadcasting levy
– Allow for the BAI expenses to be part funded (up to 50%) from licence fee receipts;
– Allow for the creation of a new funding scheme that would allow the granting of bursaries to journalists in local or community radio stations.
It is also intended that the Bill will provide for the option to put collection of the licence fee out to public tender and this will be introduced at the Committee stage of the legislative process.
Sound and Vision Scheme
Under section 156 of the Broadcasting Act, 2009, 7% of net TV licence receipts (€14.5m approx.) are allocated to the Broadcasting Fund, from which the Sound and Vision Scheme is funded. This scheme, which is administered by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, supports the production of high quality TV and radio programmes on Irish culture, heritage and experience and is accessible by independent producers and commercial broadcasters. Increasing the 7% of licence fee funding would increase support to the independent sector and incentivise the production of desirable public service content across the sector.
Commissioning of External Content by RTE
Section 116 of the Broadcasting Act, 2009 requires that RTE must make available a minimum amount of funding available each year for the commissioning of television and radio programmes. This amount was originally set at €40m with a provision that it would vary in line with the CPI, and in 2018 amounted to €39.7m. Increasing this minimum on a statutory basis would provide an important additional stimulus for the independent production sector.
The review will be carried out over the period of the Department’s Statement of Strategy 2019-2021.