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New Bright Idea: Tax Netflix subscribers to fund “Irish Producers”

One rule that is a good one to abide by in life is this: Never be mean or rude to somebody knocking at your door. That goes especially for political canvassers: Most of them are party volunteers, not responsible for setting policy, and are doing something good and healthy in a democracy: getting involved and trying to engage their fellow citizens. So, however you feel about a particular candidate, there’s never really any excuse, in my book, for shouting or roaring at some poor person who is volunteering their time to ask you about what matters to you in an election, and trying to win your vote.

All that said, if this policy goes through, it might be a bad idea to knock on my door at the next election:

The Irish television and film production industry has welcomed proposals to make streaming services, such as Netflix, pay a levy to fund more independent productions in Ireland.

The Oireachtas media and culture committee recommended a levy be placed on subscription streaming providers, to raise money to fund more Irish productions.

The committee was examining draft laws to reform the regulation of online and broadcast media. The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is likely to be brought forward by Minister for Arts Catherine Martin in the coming weeks.

There are a few things to say here:

First, the idea that this is a “levy on streaming services” is laughable: Those services will immediately pass the cost on to their Irish users. It is not a levy on Netflix. It will end up being a levy on people who watch Netflix.

Second: It is a punitive tax. In essence, those who support this proposal want to tax people not for something that they do, but for something that they are not doing. They are not watching enough Irish content, and therefore, money will be taken off them, and given to the people who make Irish content. It is a form of extortion: Watch more Irish content, or your bank account gets it.

Third: There is no evidence that it will work. The issue with Irish content is not solely financial. It is that for several years now, the industry has been out of ideas. There are essentially two genres of Irish drama: The gritty series about gangland Dublin, or the misery porn history about awful catholic Ireland, which must feature either evil nuns, or if it is set before independence, wantonly cruel Englishmen.

Fourth: There is a considerable market for good, Irish, drama, provided by none other than…. Netflix and Amazon Prime. Tune into Amazon Prime, for example, and you’ll see Monaghan’s greatest export, Caitriona Balfe, starring in Outlander, which has a substantial Irish cast. These subscription services have provided filmmakers with a previously unheard of opportunity to take their work to a global audience. Filmmakers from around the world have taken advantage of this: Look no further than “squid game” – a South Korean export presently taking Ireland by storm. There’s nothing stopping Irish filmmakers taking South Korea by storm. The issue is certainly not money – it is lack of imagination.

This, in short, is daylight robbery. Irish taxpayers, who suffer abuse after abuse from their own Government, are now to be punished for watching programmes that they actually like, rather than the boring, depressing, nun-infested dredge regularly pumped out by the Irish film industry.

There are no circumstances under which this should become law. If the Government wants to give a freebie to its friends in the arts, it has significant pots of money to take those funds from. Why not give them a share of the TV licence? Or some of the billions that go to Ireland’s NGO and charity sector?

This proposal is simply a wealth transfer from people who watch television they like, to people who make television programmes that hardly anybody likes. It is the worst, most awful, kind of Government interference.

And that’s the polite version. A Fine Gael canvasser who knocks on my door might get the impolite version.

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