RTÉ chief calls for hike in TV licence fee

Dee Forbes says uncertainty over the fee is making it impossible to plan ahead

RTÉ chief calls for hike in TV licence fee

File Photo RTÉ Montrose campus. Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews

The director general of RTÉ has warned that confusion over the future of the TV licence is making it impossible for the state broadcaster to plan ahead.

Speaking in front of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action 
and Environment this evening, RTÉ director general Dee Forbes said there is a need for greater certainty around funding.

She said the licence fee should be raised to €175.

“The current uncertainty around the TV licence fee system, both in its current performance and in how and when it might be reformed, are making it almost impossible for us at RTÉ – and those reliant on us – to plan for the next year ahead, let alone the next five years as is being expected by both our regulator and our department,” she said.

The Communications minister Denis Naughten has suggested he is not willing to increase the fee beyond its current rate of €160 – however Ms Forbes warned that it was always supposed to stay in line with inflation.

“If the TV licence fee had kept simply at pace with inflation since it was last raised – as it is supposed to do as set out in legislation – the TV licence today would be at €175 per household per year, or rather 47c a day,” she said.

“[That is] still just over a quarter of the cost of a national newspaper.”

The latest RTÉ Annual Report & Group Financial Statement shows that the broadcaster took in €178.9m from the licence fee in 2015 – a rise of 300k on the year before.

The broadcaster earned €155.4m in commercial revenue in 2015.

Real and urgent pressures

Last week, addressing the Forum on the Funding of Public Service Broadcasting, Minister Naughten acknowledged the “real and urgent pressures” facing the sector.

He said his priority is to amend the existing TV licence system to maximise the revenue it brings in.

He has submitted proposed legislation to the committee which would see the appointment of a TV licence collection agent – something he said has resulted in a significant reduction in licence evasion in the UK.

“I believe that the licence fee remains the most appropriate way of funding these services - for now at least,” he said.

“Obviously, there are issues. Evasion is high and the existing licence doesn’t take account of the new ways audiences are choosing to access public service media.

“Longer term, the current system will not be able to provide adequate funding to sustain viable public service media.”

He said the Creative Ireland Programme aims to set Ireland up as an “international leader in media production” adding that public service broadcasters “will have a central role in making this opportunity a reality.”

“We need to ensure, however, that the resources are there to allow that to happen,” he said.