RTÉ seems to have spent much of the last two decades on the brink of the financial crisis – CEO Dee Forbes has used all the superlatives at her disposal to describe how urgent the state broadcaster’s funding problems have become.
The issues raised ahead of the long-awaited release of the Future of Media Commission report are as familiar as the reruns for which the financially strapped broadcaster is often pilloried.
In 2007, with advertising spending in full swing, royalty collection was a hot topic and bogeyman for the media group.
At the time, the media columns were full of predictions about the threat posed to traditional media by the Internet. But it was almost sci-fi and few could have imagined how Google, Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, TikTok and Twitter would so radically change the way we consume media.
Though unaware of the challenges ahead, RTÉ hunted down this elusive uncollected royalty money, raising concerns on several occasions about “the extent of evasion in royalty collection” and claiming it was “twice that of the UK”. .
It was announced that An Post, which collects the fee, has a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with the Department of Communications that should have been a breakthrough for bypass levels.
But roll down to 15 years and the mantra has changed An Post and royalty collection has only intensified.
Forbes described the royalty as completely broken earlier this year, and Forbes’ estimate of what RTÉ is currently losing has risen – as thousands of people now claim they don’t have a traditional TV and therefore say they are not entitled to the royalty .
“The royalty system in Ireland results in more than €60 million in lost revenue each year. It’s not practical,” said an RTÉ spokesman.
“This drop in sales is due to 15 per cent tax evasion (compared to 7 per cent in the UK) as well as the growing number of households (around 13 per cent) who do not have a television license – but can still watch RTÉ programming on RTÉ Player.”
But how much extra money would a license fee bring in with better collection methods?
One Post believes that a tax evasion target in Ireland of around 10 per cent would be appropriate and in line with Northern Ireland and Scotland – rather than England, where tax evasion is around 6 per cent. A reduction to this level would bring in around 11 million euros, says An Post.
A senior broadcast source familiar with RTÉ funding issues hinted at a broadcast event a few years ago that the amount RTÉ could hope to win would be a fraction of the €50m/€60m.
From the point of view of RTÉ and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which represents the public service broadcasters in Europe, the collection of license fees by the Revenue Commissioners would be a turning point. However, the tax office is not in favor of becoming a bill collector, preferring to keep the property tax as a one-off tax.
Ditching the notion that the fee is a “television license” could also help RTÉ, and we may see more details on that in the coming days.
According to the EBU, Ireland is one of the few European countries that still has such a narrowly defined fee for public service media.
However, the timing is not good. A plan to rename it the “Broadcasting Fee” lost political support early in the last decade, at the time of the water fee controversy. The messages surrounding a broader indictment would need to be carefully balanced.
The Future of Media Commission, first announced at the end of 2019, is to have a 10-year perspective and also include local radio and print media. It’s now halfway through 2022, so the clock is ticking on the 10-year time frame.
Will the government come up with big solutions to help RTÉ secure its future? Or deliver meaningful changes for other media?
Tackling the tremendous challenges facing broadcast and print media requires vision and broad thinking.
Maybe nobody can do everything right. But will tweaks to royalty collection be a major breakthrough?
My guess is that RTÉ will be back at government buildings sooner rather than later and address some known issues.
Donohoe sees FDI clouds gathering
A nervousness about our dependence on multinational corporations seems to be creeping into the political agenda.
In a written response to the Dáil last month, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said: “Against the backdrop of the current geopolitical instability and uncertainty, the FDI environment is likely to face challenges in the coming years.
“The war in Ukraine may lead to a reconfiguration of the global economy, while at the same time the pandemic has dealt a significant blow to globalization.
“The extent to which this occurs only time will tell, but deglobalization – if it occurs – could lead to a decline in global FDI, with repercussions on living standards and productivity in receiving countries.”
Indigenous businesses have been saying for years that they are key to Ireland’s economic stability – so hopefully it’s time to shine.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/will-reform-of-how-the-licence-fee-is-collected-really-deliver-for-rte-41807642.html Will reforming the way the license fee is collected really do anything for RTÉ?