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Advertising slump RTÉ to seek TV licence fee reform as British government announce BBC price freeze

RTÉ wants an extra €30m a year

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RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes has made submission to Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. Photo: David Conachy

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes has made submission to Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. Photo: David Conachy

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes has made submission to Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. Photo: David Conachy

RTÉ will this week press for reform of the television licence fee – days after the British government announced a freeze for two years ahead of the fee’s possible abolition there.

The Irish TV licence fee is €160, and was last increased in 2008.

The UK licence fee is £159 per year, or about €190 when converted to euro, and standing at £159 a year.

RTÉ wants an extra €30m a year and believes that reform is possible with a move towards the implementation of a household broadcasting charge.

In a submission to be heard at the Public Accounts Committee tomorrow, RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes will argue: "If there is no action, RTÉ will not be able to return to a stable financial position, will not be able to reinvent itself for future generations."

The station - hit by a pandemic-related slump in advertising - "will not be able to fulfil our remit or maintain much of what we do today".

Although RTÉ returned a surplus of €7m for its last accounted year (2020), revenue "fell significantly short of expectations".

An additional €9m in public funding was announced by Government in December 2019, but was "entirely absorbed" by the decline in licence fee sales.

"Commercial revenue fell sharply at the onset of the pandemic and, while there was some recovery towards the end of the year, it was still €11m lower than 2019," says RTÉ, which also points to 15pc of households no longer having televisions but still having no legal obligation to pay for RTÉ content they stream on their devices.

Even where that obligation exists, 13pc of people are evading paying their licence fee - nearly twice the UK evasion rate of 7pc - while the pandemic eroded the ability of TV inspectors to do their work.

RTÉ says it is holding up its side of the bargain and remains "resolute" in its drive to remove €60m from its operating cost base by 2023.

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Financial information shows that €223.6m in licence fees was collected in 2020, with almost 90pc going to RTÉ (€196.6m - 88pc).

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