Television licences, jails, media funding and ownership

Television Licences are mandatory for everywhere that has a receiver capable of receiving a television signal – homes, holiday homes, businesses, institutions.

Jail and TV licences – the new Fines Act does not eliminate the jail option for such a minor offence. Where is common sense law reform?

The television licence costs €160 in the republic. In 2007, 32 people were jailed for non-payment; in 2008, 54 were committed; in 2009, 62 were jailed.

Fines for television licence non-payment are €1000 for first offence, and €2,000 for subsequent offences. Non-payment lands the person in court etc.

The 2009 Fines Bill aims to allow the payment of fines by instalment, indexation of fines and assessment of the ability to pay. Courts will be able to impose a community service order instead of prison. It will also be possible to make a recovery order in the same way as in the non-payment of a personal debt.

This is an improvement but legislators should eliminate laws which give judges discretion to jail people for such minor offences. My view is that such incarceration is inappropriate.

Re-allocate Licence Fee Revenue

The new landscape in communications suggests that the exclusive transfer of licence fee revenue to RTE is monopolistic and obsolete. In my view, this ought to be reviewed and changed. National public service talk radio stations such as Newstalk should be eligible for substantial aid. The news and public affairs output of each licensed broadcaster including RTE should be similarly treated using a points scheme to quantify the amount. For example, LMFM in Drogheda runs good morning current affairs programmes such as the Michael Reid Show which provides a true unique public communications service for the northeast. Broadcasting of major national events should be in a separate category so that the national public service remit can be discharged.

I can see no reason why RTE radio 2 should be treated any differently to 98 FM, FM 104 etc. This issue has huge relevance because RTE hoovers up advertising money as well as receiving the licence fee. Stations such as Newstalk are hugely dependent on the wealth of Denis O’Brien to survive.

Furthermore, the listenership for local radio is about half the market right around the country.

The other issue of media monopoly ownership is also in need of reform to ensure a diversity of control. It is naïve to expect no editorial interference by proprietors. Murdoch knows how to do it. Just ask Blair?

Ask Obama what he thinks of Fox News? The words partisan and bias fail to convey the awfulness of Bill O’Reilly and Co. This could happen here.