The TV licence fee funds public service broadcasts and insures that private media moguls do not get to own all the viewpoints in broadcast media.
What we must avoid is allowing a home broadcasting tax become a tax that is not linked to usage or ownership, if let, this TV tax will become a tax on people for merely existing.
Supporting public service broadcasting is part of protecting media diversity. As the Minister for Communications deliberates on changing from TV licence fee to home broadcasting tax, here are some pointers to be mindful of.
1. RTE is not the only recipient of licence fee currently – independent production sector and community media sector are also funded via Sound & Vision funding via the BAI.
2. Commercial broadcasters operate for profit and their stations are not public service broadcasters. Public service broadcasting is not to be confused with public service programming much of which that appears on commercial media is already cross funded by Sound & Vision. Commercial stations will claim that talks shows and 20% news remit are public service broadcasting, they are not. The ethos of the broadcaster is key.
3. As an apparatus (TV) licence becomes less popular, switching to a tax on homes is not the solution. Only funding through central taxation is fair, equitable and progressive. Central taxation solves the collection cost and the inability to pay problems that licence fee and home broadcasting tax face.
4. As the major beneficiary of public service broadcasting funding RTE needs to be reorganised to better service its remit on reduced funding. The commercial operations of RTE must be examined, and the cost of funding public service broadcasting must be considered when seeking to rearrange what RTE does commercially. Audience participation in RTE should not be limited to Liveline call-in shows, the audience, the funder of the service need a greater say in the running of the national broadcaster. The BAI also needs to be restructured, currently there is no community media representation on the BAI board.
5. There must also be better democratic access to spectrum, too often it is licensed as a rare resource to the highest bidders and to the usual suspects. If media is this important it should be owned by more interests and access to platforms like Saorview should be open to Oireachtas TV and Community Regional TV in Ireland and community radio and local radio should be allowed affordable access to DAB.
6. Beginning and leading the debate on public service broadcasting funding with the notion that the new form of collecting the funding will be another home tax is bogus. A wide scale nationwide debate on funding public service broadcasting is required, and it must not be front loaded with preconceived ideas on sources of funding.
7. This debate must include all stakeholders and users. The half a billion euro of revenue to Sky TV from Ireland each year makes the €150 million licence fee look small in comparison. How public service broadcasting is delivered in a market full of fragmentation of services and convergence of viewing technology makes this the ideal moment to consider taxing the profits of the major players in this sector.
8. Public service broadcasting is misunderstood as media literacy is not something that government is concerned with. Through the community media sector and local and national broadcasters, from classrooms to college and the local library, media literacy is key to understand and developing an informed viewpoint on what public service broadcasting is and what it can be.
Let the honest debate begin.