Eamon Ryan: "We have to change our way of funding broadcasting"

Reports suggest every house in Ireland could have to pay a licence fee, even if they don't own a TV

Eamon Ryan: "We have to change our way of funding broadcasting"

Eamon Ryan. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated 13.10

Former communications minister Eamon Ryan has warned that we have to change our way of funding Irish broadcasting.

It comes amid reports that every household in Ireland could have to pay a licence fee - even if they do not have a TV.

According to the Irish Independent, a report from the Oireachtas Committee on Communications that looks at the future of public service broadcasting will recommend a household charge that factors in laptops and tablets.

Yesterday, a Department of Communications official said the TV licence fee is a broken system and is losing €40m a year through evasion.

There's also an indication that the current fee could increase from €160 to €175, while a 'culture tax' could be imposed on internet service providers.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is a member of the Oireachtas committee, and spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about the issues they're considering.

He observed: "All media now is on a digital platform, effectively, and differentiating between one and the other is very difficult.

"The underlying problem is not just that we're not watching TVs or watching things on tablets and so on. The whole change that the digital revolution is bringing means that we have to change our way of funding broadcasting - particularly indigenous Irish broadcasting and Irish media."

He suggested that money that was once spent on local Irish media is now going towards 'very large international corporations'.

He warned: "The risk is if you don't support media & journalism... where do you get your news from? Where do you get your local content? Where do you fund local film, or quality journalism?"

He explained that rather than introducing a brand new tax, they want to reform the existing TV licence system for the digital age - and also expand the remit of the licence.

"It isn't just RTE that are in difficulty in the current media environment because of this changing digital world," Deputy Ryan said. "It is local radio stations and other media. We have to make sure they don't go down."

With the committee currently finishing up its report, the former communications minister said he's hoping there'll be "broad support" in the Oireachtas for the sorts of measures that will be recommended.

"Not fit for purpose"

In a statement, RTÉ said it 'very much welcomes' any plans to address the 'challenges' of the current system.

The broadcaster said: "RTÉ has publicly stated on many occasions that the current collection system for the television licence fee is inefficient and not fit for purpose [...] and that substantial reform of the public funding mechanism is required.

"The maintenance of a high quality national public media service will only be possible if current funding levels, which in real terms are decreasing year on year, are addressed."

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, however, told Pat Kenny that he is against the plans.

Deputy McGuinness said: "Quite frankly, I don't see why it should be imposed. 

"Why should you pay for it if you don't have a television [...] in your house?"

He added: "The issue here is whether every household should pay for it, whether they have a television or not. I think it's a step too far, and people won't accept it."