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Minister Naughten announces amendments to Broadcasting Act 2009 that will boost local radio and tackle TV licence fee evasion

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has today secured Government approval for his proposals to draft Amendments to the Broadcasting Act 2009. The Amendments will help alleviate the levy burden on independent broadcasters; provide for a Bursary Scheme for journalists working in local or community radio; allow for the issue of a tender for TV licence fee collection.

The Irish broadcasting sector – public, commercial and community – continues to face very serious commercial, structural and market challenges that impact on its ability to provide the Irish public with distinctive and high quality indigenous radio and television programming that reflects our common experience and provides the necessary Irish perspective on news events and current affairs. Alongside rapid technological change, there has been a sharp decline of approximately 40% in commercial revenues available to all Irish broadcasters since 2009. This has been caused both by the recession and changing trends in the advertising marketplace. With many of the main advertising firms based in London, the aftermath of the Brexit vote has already had a significant impact, exacerbating further the pressure on advertising revenues. Media convergence and the resultant shift to digital advertising have also caused dramatic changes, which are impacting heavily upon broadcasting and print media in particular.

Minister Denis Naughten: “I am extremely pleased to have secured Cabinet approval so that the burden of the broadcasting levy imposed on all local and community radios stations can be reduced. Radio holds a special place in the hearts of Irish people and plays an essential part in maintaining the fabric of Irish rural society. The sector needs to be nurtured and supported. I want to provide more flexibility for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in how it applies the levy to all broadcasters including community and hospital radio stations. The purpose of these proposed changes is to allow the BAI to ensure that each service it regulates can make a fair and proportionate contribution to the levy and to ensure the levy is not imposing an undue burden on the sector. In addition I intend introducing a new funding scheme to offer bursaries to journalists working in local or community radio stations. This proposed scheme, which will be funded as part of the Broadcasting Fund, will recognise quality journalism produced at local level. The scheme may be of particular interest to young journalists starting off in their careers in local radio – as many often do.”

“The other significant amendment approved today at Cabinet aims to tackle the difficulties associated with the current TV Licence system and the high level of evasion, which is estimated at over 13.75% equating to approx. €40m,” added Minister Naughten. While the €6 million achieved for public service broadcasting in Budget 2017 reversed some of the cuts imposed during recent years, I am fully conscious that, if RTÉ’s societal and sectoral contribution is to be maintained, the level of licence fee evasion needs to be tackled,” concluded Minister Naughten.

Notes for Editors:

Section 145 (TV Licence Issuing Agent)
One of the difficulties associated with the current TV Licence system is the unacceptably high level of evasion, which is estimated at over 13.75%. This is very high by European standards with, for example, the UK having an evasion rate at 7%. The figure in Ireland equates to a loss of approximately €40m per annum to public service broadcasting (which includes the Broadcasting Fund which supports the independent audio-visual production sector).

The evasion rate in the UK fell from 13% in 1991 to the current 7% after the BBC engaged commercial companies through public procurement competitions. On the basis of legal advice received from the Office of the Attorney General, the current legislation does not allow for the Minister to appoint a TV licence agent by way of public tender. The proposed amendments to section 145 would rectify this situation.

The Minister has asked the Office of Government Procurement to issue a Request for Information to see what services in this area the market may be able to offer. This process is a necessary preliminary step in advance of the issuing of a Request for Tender which can then be done once the legislation is amended. Nine companies have responded to this public Request for Information to date.

Section 33 (Funding of the BAI)/Section 123 (Allocation of Public Funding) – Part Funding the BAI Levy through TV Licence Fees
The proposed amendments to sections 33 and 123 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 are designed to allow for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to be allocated public funding from TV Licence fee receipts towards meeting its operating expenses.

A further amendment in Section 33 provides criteria that the Authority can consider when determining the granting of exemptions, deferrals or reductions in the levy for individual broadcasters or classes of broadcaster. It is intended that the consequent reductions in levy contributions would be applied ‘across the board’ by the BAI so that all broadcasters would benefit in equal proportion from the measure. It is proposed that smaller community radio stations will be exempt from the levy altogether.

Section 154 (Broadcasting funding scheme)
Amendment to the provisions of section 154 to allow for the creation of a new funding scheme that would allow the granting of bursaries to journalists in local or community radio stations.