I very much welcome the publication of the Broadcasting Bill by Minister Richard Bruton. The Bill as published will include a number of measures to support local community radio by reducing the levies placed on independent broadcasters.
The Minister also announced changes to how the TV licence fee will be collected now and into the future and a review of the Broadcasting Act.
Public service broadcasting is more important now than ever. Independent, objective reporting of domestic and international affairs is crucial. However, we must recognise that the landscape in which broadcasters operate is undergoing a transformation and that this gives rise to new challenges. Audiences are transitioning away from traditional platforms and are increasingly accessing content online through digital mediums.
This Bill will enable the broadcasting levy to be reduced for all broadcasters and for some community broadcasters to be exempted entirely. It allows for the creation of a new funding scheme that would allow the granting of bursaries to journalists in local or community radio stations.
We must support our local community radio stations and independent broadcasters.
Minister Bruton has also announced that the Government will accept the recommendations of the Working Group on the Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting and will be putting the collection of the TV licence fee out to public tender later this year. This will allow a 5 year contract for the service to be put in place, allowing the successful bidder the opportunity and the incentive to invest in the system of collection.
The Government has also agreed that at the end of the 5 year contract period, the licence fee should be replaced by an independent broadcasting charge which takes account of technological change and will enable the sustainable funding of public service content in the longer term. It is estimated that 10% of homes access content on alternative devices which do not require a television licence.
It is also clear that due to the nature of technological change and the movement towards digital devices, the design of the TV licence fee will have to change. This is a fundamental reform that will take time to develop, but it will future proof the funding model, taking account of changes in technology and in how content is now consumed.”
I welcome the decision that the current provision of free TV licences to those in receipt of the Household Benefits Package will continue. The option of purchasing TV licences at post offices will remain regardless of who the successful awardee of the contract is.
Minister Bruton has also announced a review of the Broadcasting Act, to evaluate the proportion of the TV licence revenue which is allocated to the Sound and Vision Scheme which supports the independent sector and native Irish content. The review will also consider the minimum amount of funding that RTE is obliged to spend on commissioning external content. In 2018 this amounted to €39.7m. Increasing this amount would provide an important stimulus to the independent production sector.