On Tuesday, France became the latest country to scrap its television licence. Following on an election promise from President Macron, the Senate approved the proposal to scrap the tax by 170 votes to 57. This means that it will also be certain to pass through the National Assembly.
Macron had basically stolen the idea from Marine Le Pen’s National Rally manifesto, and it proved to be a popular one, and comes as part of a series of measures designed to address the cost of living crisis that is impacting on households across all of Europe.
The French fee was €138 per year, a revenue of €3.2 billion in 2022. The state now proposes to fund public service broadcasting through VAT. Not surprisingly our own state broadcaster RTÉ seems to have missed this story.
Irish contributors to RTÉ will also probably not realise that the legal requirement to have a TV licensc is in very much the exception among the nations of the world. A mere 15 Europe states have such a thing, and beyond that only seven other countries on the planet require that you have a piece of paper in order to own a television.
Not only that, but the trend has been for countries that did force its citizens on pain of fines and imprisonment to have a TV licence to scrap it. Since 2000, that has included Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Romania and Sweden.
Poland, where evasion rates are around 65%, is currently considering doing away with it, as are the British where the current Minister for Culture Nadine Dorries supports a two-year freeze, with possible abolition in 2027.
The political divide on TV licences is interesting. The British Tories clearly have an issue with the BBC which is regarded as biased towards the left. Likewise in France, where National Rally and the more conservative Republicans support not only scrapping the license but privatisation. In Le Pen’s case this is clearly not anything to do with opposition to public services whose protection is a key part of National Rally policies, but a dislike of the fact that public broadcasting has clearly constituted another battle decisively won by the French left in its “march through the institutions.” Indeed, Mélenchon’s far left alliance NUPES and the Communist Party are the most vociferous opponents of abolition.
The main opposition party here, Sinn Féin, has had its own issues with RTÉ having been banned in the past under Section 31 and is still claiming a certain bias when it comes to coverage. It has never, however, made abolition an election promise and in general it’s overall left liberal stance on issues such as abortion which they share with the other establishment parties are clearly favoured by RTÉ.
This was evident in RTÉ’s coverage of the referendum on the 8th amendment and is reflected in its daily content on a whole range of issues. The public broadcasting service claim – as in providing any sort of meaningful cultural content – is moot when you look at their schedule which is pretty much wall to wall imported soap operas and American talk shows. There is certainly an argument for supporting Irish language media but TG4, apart from a few exceptions, differs little from the two RTÉs in its overall standard of content.
The fact that the Irish state was considering broadening their take from what people watch was signalled by the Fine Gael/Labour proposal to introduce a charge that would allow them to basically tax people for watching stuff online on their phones and laptops. That seems not to be completely dead in the water and would be a true return to the days when the state taxed people for having windows and fireplaces.
The current evasion rate here was estimated at 12.8% in 2018. I, for one, am not apologising for being one of that band. I do admit to having some lingering reservations with regard to what I believe is an onus on the state to set some sort of cultural level, but that is perhaps nothing more than intellectual snobbery on my part and a quick glance at the TV and even radio schedules indicate that that ship has by and large sailed.
In any event, my willingness to pay a few euro for TG4 is outweighed by the knowledge that it is mostly going to support ideologically motivated overpaid broadcasters who represent most of the things I disagree with, and broadcast content that I would not watch nor listen to unless you were to tie me to a chair and staple my eyelids to my forehead.