Revenue plans to collect RTÉ license fees are on hold – The Irish Times

TV license collection is unlikely to be transferred to revenue commissioners, but is expected to remain with An Post, under plans to be announced by the government soon.

The Cabinet is expected to approve the publication of the Commission’s long-awaited report on the future of the media, possibly as early as next week, but will reject one of its key recommendations – that license fees be abolished and replaced by a direct subsidy for RTÉ from the Treasury.

The report was sent to the government last year and has been the subject of much internal wrangling ever since. Minister for Arts and Culture Catherine Martin argued strongly for direct state funding for RTÉ, but this was resisted by senior ministers including the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Spending Michael McGrath.

Last week, the commission’s chairman, Professor Brian MacCraith, called for the report to be published.

There have been lengthy discussions within government since last fall about transferring responsibility for collecting license fees to revenue, but the proposal has been strongly resisted by revenue and the Department of Finance.

Collection efficiency

Responsibility for fee collection is now expected to fall to An Post, although proposals are expected to improve the efficiency of the process.

RTÉ collects around €200m a year in license fee income, although the station has long complained that the rate of license fee fraud and avoidance is costing it more than €65m a year. Of its annual budget of 340 million euros, an additional 140 million euros comes from commercial activities, mainly advertising.

The station has complained of being underfunded for several years and has lobbied successive governments for additional funding. Earlier this year, RTÉ chief executive Dee Forbes told a committee of the Oireachtas that the license fee system was ‘completely broken’ while the station said it could not continue to fulfill its mission without additional funding.

There had been widespread speculation that a previous proposal for a “broadcasting tax” applied to all households – rather than just those with televisions – would be revived. However, the government was concerned that this would generate significant public opposition similar to the experience with water charges.

Other proposals to help struggling local media and to abolish VAT on newspapers should be accepted in principle by the government, although they will not be discussed before the budget, according to people familiar with discussions on the issues in government.

The news comes as RTÉ prepares to publish its latest annual report, which is expected to show the difficult financial situation facing the broadcaster.

RTÉ also faces a loss of senior management over the coming months. News chief Jon Williams announced his departure last week and is expected to leave the station this summer. Ms Forbes’ contract expires next year, while RTÉ board chair Moya Doherty is due to leave in October at the end of her term.