3 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
     
Minister Increases TV Licence
04 Jul 2001 :
The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Síle de Valera T.D., announced that the Government had approved her proposal to increase the television licence fee by £14.50 from 1st September, 2001.

This will bring the colour television licence to £84.50 (107 Euro) and the monochrome licence fee to £68.50 (84 Euro). The increase is an interim one, designed to enable RTÉ to maintain its current level of services without eliminating its cash reserves. The Government also agreed to the Minister’s proposal to consider a further increase from 1st April, 2003 subject to certain conditions.

In a statement issued on 3rd July, the Minister believes that "RTÉ’s current level of radio and television services, its commitment to TG4, RTÉ’s performing groups, and RTÉ’s significant role in the cultural life of the nation should continue to be properly funded. She believes that this level of services is the minimum that should be expected of the national public service broadcaster. The Minister believes that the argument for maintaining and supporting a strong public service broadcasting service is to-day stronger than ever and, while she fully supports the concept of public service broadcasting, as we have known it, this does not mean that nothing should change. New technologies offer the opportunity to do things more efficiently.

In the current financial year, without an increase, licence fee revenue accruing to RTÉ would have been in excess of £67 million. The increase approved will add an estimated £6.1m. to this figure in 2001. The increase is equivalent to almost £15m. in a full year. Not unreasonably, licence holders must be reassured that the licence fee revenue is well spent and that the Authority meets its statutory obligations in the most cost-effective manner.

The RTÉ application for a £50 increase in the licence fee can be broken into four constituent elements:-

(i) maintenance of the existing levels of service
(ii) the maintenance of cash balances
(iii) increasing the output and quality of indigenous programming
(iv) the introduction of new digital television channels

Because of concerns that have arisen as a result of the examination by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) of the RTÉ application, the Minister has found it necessary to recommend to Government to delay any increase in respect of new or improved quality indigenous programming or the development of digital channels at this time. The Minister accepts that improved original programming and the development of digital services are crucial to RTÉ’s continued relevance to Irish audiences as the national public service broadcaster. However, she believes and the Government has agreed, that costs in RTÉ must be reduced - in line with the RTÉ transformation agreement, and that there is a clear demonstration that any additional funds will lead to real improvements in services before any further increases are contemplated. In recognition of the importance of additional and improved quality indigenous programming, both to RTÉ and to the audiovisual sector generally and taking into account the views expressed in the Consultants report, the Government has agreed to consider a further increase in the television licence fee from 1st April, 2003, subject to prior independent verification that the following conditions have been met:

- Completion of the RTÉ transformation programme, currently in progress, with the savings independently verified,

- More comprehensive and detailed reporting arrangements that reflect the additional requirements laid down in the Broadcasting Act 2001 and any additional reporting considered necessary by the Minister for greater transparency. In particular the Minister believes that costs and revenues of each RTÉ service and activity should be clearly understood from its annual report and accounts,

- An independent study to determine what, if any, organisational changes and resources are needed to ensure that the Authority can carry out its statutory functions as custodian of the public service national broadcasting service on behalf of the people of Ireland and to ensure that undertakings given by RTÉ as part of its application are delivered on.

In brief, the Government must be satisfied that any additional monies will be spent on genuine improvements to the quality of the services provided by RTÉ, and that the spend can be monitored effectively by the Authority.

The Minister could not recommend any increase in respect of the development of new digital channels by RTÉ at this time. On the advice of the consultants she believes that RTÉ has a considerable amount of further work to do in developing its plans and strategies in this area. However, she will be emphasising to RTÉ the importance that the Government attaches to the development of new digital channels to facilitate and drive the roll-out of the Information Society through the digital terrestrial broadcasting platform. The Government has agreed that she should indicate to the Authority that, on receipt of comprehensive, fully costed proposals for new digital services supported by a robust public service justification for their introduction, the Government would be prepared to consider, in recognition that the public service broadcaster is an essential driver in the roll out of the digital terrestrial platform, incorporating an element in respect of digital channels into the further increase to be considered as mentioned above.

The Minister believes it is unfortunate that it took so long to complete consideration of the RTÉ application. This is because it was not possible to base any recommendation on the original application, even after considerable work by the consultants. It was not until further information supplementing the original application, was independently examined and verified in the Consultants Supplementary Report submitted to her in June 2001, that she could begin to finalise her proposal.

DH



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