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Television licence

Funding of European public broadcasters
TV licence No TV licence
A television licence (or broadcast receiver licence) is an official licence required in many countries for the reception of television (and sometimes also radio) broadcasts. It is a form of hypothecation tax to fund public broadcasting, thus allowing public broadcasters to transmit programmes without, or with only supplemental, funding from radio and television commercials.

The television licence was originally known as a radio licence, and was used to fund public radio broadcasting. With the arrival of television some countries created a separate additional television licence, while others simply increased the radio licence fee to cover the additional cost of TV broadcasting, changing the licence's name from "radio licence" to "TV licence" or "receiver licence". Today most countries fund public radio broadcasting from the same licence fee that is used for television, although a few still have separate radio licences, or apply a lower or no fee at all for consumers who only have a radio. Some countries also have different fees for users with colour or monochrome TV. Many give discounts, or charge no fee, for elderly and/or disabled consumers.

Television licences around the world

The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago notes that two-thirds of the countries in Europe and half of the countries in Asia and Africa use television licences to fund public television. TV licensing is rare in the Americas, largely being confined to French overseas departments and British territories

The actual cost and implementation of the television licence varies greatly from country to country. The rest of this section looks at the licence fee in a number of countries around the world.

Europe

Albania

The Albanian licence fee is 800 Lekë (around €6.30) per year. However, the licence fee makes up only a small part of public broadcaster RTSh's funding. RTSh is mainly funded directly from the government through taxes (58%), the remaining 42% comes from commercials and the licence fee.

Austria

In accordance with the Austria RGG (TV and Radio Licence Law) all broadcasting reception equipment in use or operational at a given location must be registered. The location of the equipment is taken to be places of residence or any other premises with a uniform purpose of use.

Responsible for licence administration in Austria is GIS - Gebühren Info Service GmbH, a 100% subsidiary of the Austrian Broadcasting Company (ORF), as well as an agency of the Ministry of Finance, charged with performing functions concerning national interests. Transaction volume in 2007 amounted to EUR 682 million, 66% of which are allocated to the ORF for financing the organisation and its programs, and 34% are allocated to the federal government and the local governments (taxes and funding of local cultural activities). GIS employs some 191 people and appr. 125 free lancers in field service. 3.4 million Austrian households are registered at GIS, percentage of licence dodgers in Austria amounts to 2,5%.

The main principle of GIS' communication strategy is to inform instead of control. To achieve this goal GIS uses a four-channel communication strategy:

  • Above-the-line activities (advertising campaigns in print media, radio and TV)
  • Direct Mails
  • Distribution channels – outlets where people can acquire the necessary forms for registering (post offices, banks, tobacconists, five GIS Service Centers throughout Austria)
  • Field service – customer consultants visiting households not yet registered

The annual television & radio licence varies in price depending on which state one lives in. Annual fees from June 2008 are:

State Television Radio
Burgenland € 253.32 € 73.92
Carinthia € 279.72 € 80.52
Lower Austria € 272.52 € 78.72
Upper Austria € 223.32 € 65.52
Salzburg € 260.52 € 76.32
Styria € 284.52 € 82.32
Tyrol € 262.92 € 76.32
Vorarlberg € 223.32 € 65.52
Vienna € 276.72 € 80.16

Belgium (Walloon Region)

The licence fee in Belgium's Walloon Region (encompassing the French and German speaking communities) is €149.67 for a TV and €26.72 for a car radio. Only one licence is needed for each household regardless of how many television sets there are. However, each car with a radio must have a separate car radio licence. Household radios do not require a licence. The money raised by the fee is used to fund Belgium's French and German public broadcasters (RTBF and BRF respectively).

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The licence fee in Bosnia and Herzegovina is around 36 per year. The civil war and the associated collapse of infrastructure caused very high evasion rates. This has in part been resolved by collecting the licence fee as part of a household's telephone bill. The licence is used to fund PBSBiH (Public Broadcasting Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina) which is an umbrella organisation of three separate broadcasters. These are BHRT (Radio Television of Bosnia Herzegovina), which serves the whole country; RTFBiH (Radio-Television of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina) that serves Bosnian-Croat and Bosniak population; and RTRS (Radio-Television of the Republika Srpska), which serves the Bosnian Serb people.

Croatia

The licence fee in Croatia is set each year in accordance with the Croatian Radio Television Act, 2001. The act states that the total licence fee is equal to 1.5% of the average net salary in the previous year. This works out at about €100 per year per household with at least one radio or TV receiver.

The fee is the main source of revenue for the national broadcaster Hrvatska Radiotelevizija (HRT), and a secondary source of income for other national and local broadcasters, which receive a minority share of this money. Despite the licence money, HRT's programmes are still not free of advertisements, but the percentage of air time which may be devoted to advertising is limited by law and is lower than the one that applies to commercial broadcasters.

Cyprus

The licence fee in Cyprus is indirect but obligatory and paid through electricity bills. The amount to be paid varies according to the total floor area of the property. Its beneficiary is the state broadcaster Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC).

Northern Cyprus ("TRNC" only recognised by Turkey) does not pay the Cypriot licence fee as Cypriot jurisdiction is not applicable in the North. Bayrak Radio and Television Corporation, the North's public broadcaster gets it funds through the North Cypriot government.

Czech Republic

The licence fee in the Czech Republic is 1620 Kč (€56.90) as from January 1, 2008. Each household pays for one TV Licence regardless of how many televisions they own. Corporations and the self-employed must pay for a licence for each television. From 2008 no commercials or teleshopping will be allowed except for adverts related to sports and cultural transmissions.

Denmark

The licence fee in Denmark is 2,150 kr (around €288) in media licence fee (which applies to all TVs, computers with internet access above 256 kbit/s or with TV tuners or other devices that can receive broadcast TV: which actually means that you have to pay the TV licence if you have a relatively new mobile phone). Radio licence is 320 kr (around €43). The black/white TV rate is no longer offered after January 1st, 2007. The majority of the licence fee is used to fund the national radio and TV broadcaster DR. However, a proportion is used to fund TV 2's regional services.

Finland

The television fee in Finland is between €208.15 and €215.40 (depending on the interval of payments) per annum for a household with TV (as of 2007). It is the primary source of funding for Yleisradio (YLE). The amount is being adjusted yearly for reasons including transition to digital television.There are no exemptions from the fee.

In 1999, television license fee was renamed television fee, since at that time the new constitution of Finland was being drafted. This new constitution guarantees everyone the right to receive messages without permission as a part of freedom of speech. This had little practical effect.

The switch to digital only transmission of TV in Finland has seen a dramatic decline in the number of households with a TV licence. The reason for this is not clear. It may be that people are recouping the mandatory cost of purchasing a digital receiver (50-100€ for basic models) against the cost of the licence by way of protest. Many (but not all) set top boxes carry encryption technology and YLE, which has lost considerable income and has slashed TV services has said it is considering whether to encrypt the signal to enforce payment of the licence.

France

In 2005, the television licence fee in France (mainland & Corsica) was €116 and in the overseas departments it was €74. The licence funds services provided by Radio France, France Télévisions and Radio France Internationale. Overseas departments receive the Reseau France d'Outre Mer ('Télé [name of department or territory]', Tempo, and France Ô), whilst the mainland receives France 2, France 3, France 5, Arte, France 4 and Gulli. Public broadcasters in France supplement their licence fee income with that from advertising. However, changes in the law in 2000 designed to stop public television chasing ratings, have brought this into steep decline; Between 1998 and 2004 the proportion of France Télévision's income that came from advertising declined from around 40% to 30%. To keep the cost of collection low, the licence fee in France is collected as part of local taxes.

Germany

The licence fee in Germany is €204.36 per annum for TV and radio, and €66.24 for just radio. It is billed by the month, but typically paid quarterly (yearly payments are possible). The unemployed, disabled and people (nearly) solely dependent on governmental support for living do not need to pay the licence fee. Starting in 2007, the German government will establish a licence fee for every working Internet link (e.g. mobile phone or PC) if it is the only source for radio and television. These devices will be charged the radio fee. The licence fee has to be paid even if the device is not attached or has no immediate capabilities to connect to internet. According to the official regulation, the fee has to be paid if the device "could potentially connect to internet without significant efforts" (which means one could buy a modem and then connect). Non-possession of internet-capable devices is no obstacle to required fees, but the virtual possibility of potential capability to receive broadband is sufficient to pay.

The licence fee is used to fund the public broadcasters ZDF, ARD, and Deutschlandradio, ARTE and the public "Third Programmes" TV channels and all public radio stations as well. Their budgets are often supplemented by limited advertisements at certain hours of the day. Germany currently has one of the largest public broadcast budgets in the world. Their annual revenue is roughly EUR 7.6 billion (which is approximately twice as much as the European and Russian space programs combined), plus EUR 500 million in commercial ads. Nevertheless the board of public broadcasters sued the German states for interference with their budgeting process, and on September 11, 2007, they achieved a total victory at the Supreme Court, rendering their institution as an independent and self-governing body. In addition they are allowed to charge the public for "lost revenues" in their forthcoming fee raise.

Public broadcasters have announced that they are determined to strongly utilize all available ways to access their "customers" and as such have started a very broad internet presence with media portals, news and TV programs. With the intention to "reach their customers" in an appropriate way, the national broadcasters have abandoned their pledge for restricting their internet activities. German society will have the world's most extensive public internet media program in the near future. However, a steep fee raise is announced for 2009.

Greece

The licence fee in Greece is indirect but obligatory and paid through electricity bills. The amount to be paid is €51.60 (2006) for every separate account of the electrical company (including residence, offices, shops and other places provided with electricity). Its beneficiary is the state broadcaster Ellinikí Radiofonía Tileórasi (ERT). Predicted 2006 annual revenue of ERT from the licence fee (officially called "retributive" fee) is €262.6M (from €214.3M in 2005).

There has been some discussion about imposing a direct licence fee after complaints from people who do not own a television set and yet are still forced to fund ERT. An often quoted anecdote is that even dead people pay the licence fee (since graveyards pay electricity bills).

Iceland

In Iceland the TV Licence is 32 460 kr (around €346.59) (2006). Discounts are available for black and white TVs and those who only have radios. The TV Licence is used to fund RÚV. However, this income is supplemented by limited broadcasting commercials (around 3 minutes per hour).

Ireland

In 2008 the television licence in the Republic of Ireland is €160, In 2006, the television licence in the Republic of Ireland was €158, up from €155 in 2005. It is free to anyone over the age of 70 and to some over 66, and the blind although these licences are in fact paid for by the state. Everybody (regardless of means or circumstances), over the age of 70, is entitled to a free lifetime licence. The Irish Post Office, An Post, is responsible for collection of the licence fee and commencement of prosecution proceedings in cases of non-payment. However, An Post has signalled its intention to withdraw from the licence fee collection business. The Irish TV licence makes up 50% of RTÉ's revenue. The rest comes from RTÉ broadcasting commercials on its radio and TV stations. Furthermore, some RTÉ services, such as RTÉ 2fm, RTÉ Aertel, rte.ie, and the transmission network operate on an entirely commercial basis.

The licence fee does not entirely go to RTÉ. After collection costs, 5% is used for the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland's "Sound and Vision Scheme", which provides a fund for programme production and restoration of archive material which is open to applications from any quarters. 5% of what RTÉ then receive is granted to TG4, as well as a requirement to provide them with programming. The remainder of TG4's funding is direct state grants and commercial income.

The licence must be paid for premises that have any equipment that can potentially decode TV signals, even those that are not RTÉ's.

Italy

In 2008, the licence fee in Italy was €106.00 per household with a TV set or "similar devices" (these include computers, mobiles, video-intercoms, etc).

It is the primary source of income for RAI, which does, however, also broadcast advertising. Italy has problems with collection of the licence, with approximately 40% of viewers (mainly from southern Italy) not paying their licence. One of the reasons is that the maximum fine is only half that of the licence itself (plus the licence on top of that), compared to the UK where the fine is up to £1000 (about €1500.)

Viewers in the province of Bolzano-Bozen, Italy, which has a large German-speaking minority, can also receive Austrian and German public TV and radio channels via terrestrial transmissions. However, they do not pay the German or Austrian licence fees.

Macedonia

The licence fee in the Republic of Macedonia is around €57 per year. It is collected monthly as part of the electricity bill. In addition to licence fee funding, Macedonian Radio-Television (MRT) also takes advertising and sponsorship.

Malta

The licence fee in Malta is €34.40. It is used to fund the television (TVM) and radio channels (Radio Malta and Radju Parliament) run by Public Broadcasting Services. Approximately two-thirds of TVM's funding comes from the licence fee, with much of the remainder coming from commercials.

Montenegro

In accordance with the Broadcasting Law (December 2002), every household and legal entity, situated in the Republic, where technical conditions for reception of at least one radio or television programme have been provided, is obliged to pay a monthly broadcasting subscription fee. The monthly fee is 3.5 EUR

The Broadcasting Agency of Montenegro is in charge of collecting the fee (currently through the telephone bills, but after the privatization of state owned Telekom, the new owners - T-com, announced that they will not administer the collection of fee from July 2007).

The funds from the subscription received by the Agency belong to:

  • the Republic's public broadcasting services (radio and television) - 75%;
  • the Agency's fund for the support of the local public broadcasting services (radio and television) - 10%;
  • the Agency's fund for the support of the commercial broadcasting services (radio and television) - 10%;
  • the Agency - 5%.

Norway

The licence fee in Norway is 2103.84 kr (about €270) per annum (2007). The fee is mandatory for any owner of a TV set, and is the primary source of income for Norsk Rikskringkasting (NRK). The licence fee is charged on a per household basis. Therefore addresses with more than one television receiver only require a single licence.

Poland

The current (2007) annual licence fee in Poland for television set is 204 (about €53) per annum The licence may be paid monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or annually, there are discounts for early payment (up to 8.5% for paying for full year in advance). Those that have no TV but have a radio must pay the radio-only licence which costs 63.60 zł (about €17) per year.

Around 60% of the fee goes to Telewizja Polska with the rest going to Polskie Radio. In return public television is not permitted to interrupt its programmes with advertisements. The TV licence is waived for those over 75. Only one licence is required for a single household irrespective of number of sets, but in case of commercial premises one licence for each set must be paid. There is a major problem with licence evasion in Poland, as the inspectors do not have right of entry to inspected premises and must get the owner’s permission to enter, because of this, it is estimated that about 45% households and 98% of businesses do not pay.

Romania

The licence fee in Romania for a household is 48 RON (about 12) per annum. Small businesses pay about €45 and large businesses about 150. The licence fee is collected as part of the electricity bill. The licence fee makes up part of Televiziunea Română's funding, with the rest coming from advertising and government grants.

Slovakia

The total licence in Slovakia comes to approximately 42 per annum. In addition to the licence fee STV also receives state subsidies and money from advertising.

Slovenia

In 2004, the licence fee in Slovenia stood at SIT 31 644 (about €132). The licence fee is used to fund RTV Slovenija, which supplements its licence fee income by broadcasting commercials

Sweden

The current licence fee (TV-avgift, literally TV fee) in Sweden is 2032 kr(about €210) per annum. It is collected on behalf of the three public broadcasters (Sveriges Television, Sveriges Radio and Sveriges Utbildningsradio) by Radiotjänst i Kiruna AB, which is jointly owned by them.

The fee pays for five TV channels and 16 radio channels. In Sweden, the term "television licence" was replaced a few years ago by "television fee", which was regarded as less ambiguous. The fee is leveraged based per household with TV service, not per TV set. Although the fee also pays for radio broadcasting, there is no fee for radios.

Switzerland

According to the Swiss Federal Law on Radio and Television (RTVG), the reception of radio and / or television programs must be registered and is subject to reception fees. The fees are paid per house-hold or business location and not per device.

Since 1998, Billag has been responsible for collecting these radio and television reception fees on behalf of the Swiss Federation. It sends around 12 million bills a year to three million households in Switzerland. The collection volume is approximately CHF 1.2 billion (EUR 758 million). It also sends out one million payment reminders a year. In addition, approximately 60,000 recoveries are initiated.

Billag employs approximately 260 people and was founded as a fully owned subsidiary of Swisscom, the leading telecommunications company in Switzerland. Its services make public radio and television possible. Billag is independent of SRG SSR idée suisse which is the national public broadcaster and therefore the primary beneficiary of the collected fees. Regional and local broadcasters also receive funding from fees as long as they provide a public service.

One of Billag’s jobs is also to provide information to the general public about registration and fees in all four official languages (German, French, Italian, Romansh). Radio and TV spots, an interactive website, mailings, brochures and visits by field staff are among the most important communications media.

Persons in residential care as well as those who are receiving supplementary income from the Swiss Confederation in addition to their old-age or invalidity pension, are exempt.

Treating all those subject to fees the same way protects the approximately 96% of consumers that readily fulfil their legal obligations and ensures that conditions are fair for all.

The licence fee in Switzerland is CHF 450.35 (about 292) per annum for TV and radio.

Viewers in the province of Bolzano-Bozen, Italy, which has a large German-speaking minority, can also receive the Swiss German-language channels via terrestrial digital transmissions, but do not have to pay a licence fee.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has two independent public broadcasters, the BBC which is funded by a TV licence and Channel 4 which is funded by advertising. The BBC is by far the bigger broadcaster in terms of funding and breadth of output.

In the United Kingdom, the current annual cost for a colour television licence (as of 1 April 2008) is £139.50 (approximately €176) and £47.00 (approximately €59) for monochrome TV (black and white). The licence fee is charged on a family unit per household basis, which means there could be many TVs per household covered by a single licence. The majority of UK domestic customers will require one licence per household. The licence fee is used to fund the BBC's radio, television and internet services. A similar licence, mandated by the 1904 Wireless Telegraphy Act, used to exist for radio, but was abolished in 1971.

There are concessions for the elderly (free for over-75s), the licence fee here being paid for by the Department for Work and Pensions. Blind people get a 50% discount on their licence or completely free if only in possession of an audio only receiver. Residents of residential care homes (for the elderly and people with physical/mental disabilities) can apply for a special licence called the licence for Accommodation for Residential Care (ARC) which is £7.50 per year.

The licence fee represents approximately 75% of the BBC's income with most of the rest coming from the sale of its programming overseas and other business allied to broadcasting such as publishing. The UK's second public broadcaster, Channel 4, which is funded by advertising did however get funding for digital switch-over paid for from the licence fee. Some of S4C's programmes such as Pobol y Cwm and Newyddion, are made by BBC Wales and provided free of charge to S4C, meaning they are paid for by the licence fee.

Asia

Israel

The television licence for 2006 in Israel is 400 (about £50 or €70). The licence fee is the primary source of revenue for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, the state broadcaster; however, its radio stations carry full advertising and its TV programmes sometime receive "sponsorship" from commercial entities to supplement this income.

Japan

In Japan, the annual licence fee for terrestrial television broadcasts is ¥15,490 (about €110) (slightly less if paid by direct debit) and ¥25,520 (about £110 or €164) if you receive satellite broadcasts. There is a separate licence for monochrome TV, and fees are different in Okinawa. The Japanese licence fee pays for the national broadcaster NHK.

While every household in Japan with a television set is required to have a licence, there is no penalty for non-payment, and people are legally entitled to stop licensing inspectors from entering their houses.

Korea, Republic of

In South Korea, the television licence fee is collected for Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) & Korea Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) and is ₩30,000 per year (about £15 or €25). It has stood at this level since 1981, and now makes up less than 40% of KBS's income & less than 8% of EBS's income. Its purpose is to maintain public broadcasting in South Korea, and to give public broadcasters the resources to do their best to produce and broadcast public interest programs. The fee is collected by the national electrical company (Korean Electric Power Company).

Pakistan

The television licence in Pakistan is Rs300 per year (around €3.86). It is collected as a Rs25 per month charge to all consumers of electricity. The proceeds of the fee and advertising are used to fund PTV.

Singapore

Even though MediaCorp, Singapore's only television broadcaster, is technically not a public broadcaster, Singaporeans with TVs in their households or TVs and radios in their vehicles are still required to acquire a television licence. The cost of the TV licence for a household in Singapore is S$110 (about €57). Additional licences are required for radios and TVs in vehicles (S$27 and S$110 respectively).

Africa

Ghana

The licence fee in Ghana is ¢3,000 (about €0.29) (2006). The fee is used to fund the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). There has recently been controversy in the Ghanaian Parliament over the number of people who do not pay the licence.

Mauritius

The licence fee in Mauritius is Rs 1200 per year (around €29). It is collected as part of the electricity bill. The proceeds of the licence fee are used to fund the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). The licence fee makes up 60% of MBC's funding with the other 40% coming from television commercials. However, the introduction of private broadcasting in 2002 has put pressure on MBC's revenue from commercials and this is decreasing. Furthermore, MBC is affecting the profitability of the private stations who want the government to make MBC commercial free

Namibia

The licence fee in Namibia was N$204 (about €23) in 2001. The fee is used to fund the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).

South Africa

The licence fee in South Africa is R225 (about €31) per annum (R276 per year if paid on a monthly basis) for TV. A concessionary rate of R65 is available for those over 70, and disabled persons or war veterans who are on social welfare. The licence fee partially funds the public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The SABC does, unlike some other public broadcasters, derive much of its income from advertising.

Countries where the TV licence has been abolished

The following countries have had television licences, but subsequently abolished them:

Australia

Radio licence fees were introduced in Australia in the 1920s to fund the first privately owned broadcasters which were not permitted to sell advertising. With the formation of the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1932 the licence fees were used to fund ABC broadcasts while the privately owned stations were permitted to seek revenue from advertising and sponsorship. Television licence fees were also introduced in 1956 when the ABC began TV transmissions. All licence fees were abolished in 1974 by the Australian Labor Party government led by Gough Whitlam on the basis that the near-universality of television and radio services meant that public funding was a fairer method of providing revenue for government-owned radio and television broadcasters. The ABC has since then been funded by government grants, now totalling around A$800 million a year, and its own commercial activities (merchandising, overseas sale of programmes, etc.). In the early 1990s, passing criticism of ABC content was often referred to by the term "where your 8 cents a day goes", referring to the cost each Australian was indirectly contributing to the ABC.

Belgium (Flemish region)

The Flemish region of Belgium abolished its television licence in 2001. The Flemish broadcaster VRT is now funded from general taxation.

Gibraltar

It was announced in Gibraltar's budget speech of June 23, 2006 that Gibraltar would abolish its TV licence. The 7,452 TV licence fees were previously used to part fund the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). However, the majority of the GBC's funding came in the form of a grant from the government.

Hungary

In Hungary the government took over the payment of all television licence fees from the public in 2002. Effectively this means that funding for Magyar Televízió and Duna TV now comes from the government through taxation. As from Spring 2007 commercial units (hotels, bars etc.) have to pay television licence fees again, on a per TV set basis.

India

India introduced a radio receiver licence system in 1928, for All India Radio. With the advent of television broadcasting in 1956-57, television was also licensed. With the spurt in television stations beginning 1971-72, a separate broadcasting company, Doordarshan, was formed. The radio & TV licences in question needed to be renewed at the post offices on a yearly basis.

However in 1977, the licensing system was withdrawn, with both the Indian national public broadcasters, AIR and Doordarshan instead funded by both the Government of India and advertisements.

Malaysia

Malaysia abolished the TV licence at the end of 1999.

Netherlands

The licence fee in the Netherlands was abolished in 2000 due to the excessive collection costs. Public television in the Netherlands is now funded by government subsidy. In order to pay for public television from government funds, income tax was increased.

New Zealand

Licence fees were first used in New Zealand to fund the radio services of what was to become the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. Television was introduced in 1960, and with it the television licence fee. The licence fee was capped at NZ$100 a year (around €49) in the 1970s, and the country's two television channels, while still publicly owned, became increasingly reliant on advertising. Later known as the public broadcasting fee, the licence fee was finally abolished in New Zealand in 1999, partly because the administration costs to collect the tax relative to the level of revenue was unviable, and also because the TV channels had become commercial revenue generators for the government with hardly any public service obligations left.

Portugal

The licence fee was abolished in 1992 by the Cavaco Silva government, the fee funded the national public broadcaster RTP (Rádio e Televisão de Portugal). It was replaced with direct government subsidy and advertisements.

However, since the merger between the public radio and television enterprises in Portugal, a fraction of the radio licence fee has served to fund the commercial advertising-free channel RTP2. The radio licence fee was instituted in the early 90's to fund the public radio channels which are advertising-free, and is charged through electricity bills under the name "Taxa de Contibuição Audiovisual" (Portuguese for Broadcasting Contribution Tax). The radio licence fee is aproximately €20,52 per year (€1,71 per month).

Countries that never had a television or broadcasting licence

Europe

Andorra

Ràdio i Televisió d'Andorra, the public broadcaster, is funded by both advertising and government grants, there is no fee.

Estonia

Estonian government owns one channel: Eesti Televisioon (ETV). The bulk of ETV's funding comes from government grant-in-aid, around 15% of which is in turn funded by the fees paid by Estonian commercial broadcasters in return for their exclusive right to screen television advertising. ETV stopped showing commercials in 1998-1999 and has again ceased doing so since 2002: its low-cost advertising rates were damaging the ability of commercial broadcasters to operate. The introduction of system of broadcast receiver licences, payable by viewers, was considered, but ultimately rejected in the face of public opposition. ETV is the only public television in EU which has neither advertising or licence, it is funded by national and local governments grants.

Liechtenstein

In Liechtenstein there is the public radio station Radio Liechtenstein. It was founded as a private station in 1995, but was nationalized in 2004. Radio Liechtenstein is funded by commercials and government grants. A television station, 1FLTV, was launched in August of 2008.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg has never had a television licence, because when RTL (RTL Télé Lëtzebuerg) was established, it was simply a commercial broadcaster, and acted with public broadcasting dimension in its programming. Plus many Luxembourgers are trilingual in French, German and Luxembourgish, so many watched French, German and Belgian television as well as local TV, so putting a television licence in place would be seen as unfair.

Monaco

Monaco has never had a television licence, because when TMC (Télé Monte Carlo) was established, it was simply a government-owned commercial broadcaster, and acted with public broadcasting dimension in its programming.

North America

The reasons why the idea of a licence fee never caught on in Canada or the United States bear some differences.

Canada

The Canadian public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, lagged slightly behind the private American broadcasters in providing radio and then television service to Canadians. Many, but not all, Canadians had access to radio and television signals from stations in the northern U.S. Thus unlike the BBC, the CBC had to compete with other English language stations for most of its viewing audience. A licence fee to own a television would almost certainly have been viewed as unfair by Canadians who could only watch one and later two channels, while others would presumably pay the same fee and get four and later five. Moreover, by early 1960s, close to every Canadian household had acquired a television set, giving limited weight to the argument that a licence fee is fair to those who do not own a television. As a result, the Canadian government chose to fund the CBC from its general revenues (funding now totals roughly C$1 billion annually), although CBC Television also sells advertising to cover some of its expenses.

United States

In the United States, historically, privately owned "commercial" radio stations selling advertising quickly proved to be commercially viable enterprises during the first half of the twentieth century; though a few governments owned non-commercial radio stations (such as WNYC, owned by New York City from 1922 to 1997), most were owned by charitable organizations and supported by donations. The pattern repeated itself with television in the second half of that century, except that some governments, mostly states, also established educational television stations alongside the privately owned stations.

The United States did eventually create the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1967, which eventually led to the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio; however, those are loose networks of non-commercial stations owned by state and local governments, educational institutions, or non-profit organizations, more like U.S. commercial networks (though there are some differences) than European public broadcasters. The CPB and virtually all government-owned stations are funded through general taxes, and donations from individual persons (usually in the form of "memberships") and charitable organizations. Additionally, many individual programs on PBS and NPR are also sponsored by companies. While programming is not interrupted by traditional commercial breaks, commercials typically precede and follow each program.

Since the annual funding for public television in the United States is only about $2 per capita, a separate tax or fee for public television would probably prove unviable.

In some rural portions of the United States, broadcast translator districts exist, which are funded by an ad valorem property tax on all property within the district, or a parcel tax on each dwelling unit within the district. Failure to pay the TV translator tax has the same repercussions as failing to pay any other property tax, including a lien placed on the property and eventual seizure. In addition, fines can be levied on viewers who watch TV from the signals from the translator without paying the fee. Depending on the jurisdiction, the tax may be charged regardless of whether the resident watches TV from the translator or instead watches it via cable or satellite, or the property owner may certify that they do not use the translator district's services and get a waiver.

Another substitute for TV licenses comes through cable franchise agreements. An itemized tax on customers' bills is included or a tax on the cable TV operator's gross income to fund public-access television for the municipality that granted the franchise agreement. State governments also may add their own taxes. These taxes generate controversy since these taxes sometimes go into the general fund of governmental entities or there is double taxation (e.g. a tax funds public access television, but the cable TV operator must pay for the equipment or facilities out of its own pocket anyways, or the cable TV operator must pay for earmark projects of the local municipality that are not related to television).

Asia

Iran

Iran has never had a television licence. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the state broadcaster has been Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, which before 1979 was called National Iranian Radio and Television. In Iran private broadcasting is illegal.

Detection of evasion of television licences

In many jurisdictions, television licences are enforced. The BBC states 'television detector vans' are employed by TV Licensing in the UK. Besides claims of (usually undisclosed) sophisticated technological methods (such as TEMPEST ) for the detection of operating televisions, detection of illegal television sets is normally limited to simple methods such as the observation of the lights and sounds of an illegal television in a user's home at night. Detection is made a lot easier because nearly all houses do have a licence, so only those houses that do not have a licence need to be checked.

Opinions of television licensing systems

Many feel that one of the main advantages of TV fully funded by a licence fee is that programming can be enjoyed by all viewers without interruptions for advertisements. Voluntary funding of public television via subscriptions would require a subscription level higher than the licence fee (because not all people that currently pay the licence would vountarily pay a subscription) if quality and/or output volume is not to decline. These higher fees would deter even more people from subscribing leading to further hikes in subscription levels. In time, if public subscription television was subject to encryption to deny access to non-subscribers, the poorest in society would be denied access to the many well-funded programmes that public service providers produce today for the relatively low cost of the licence. In economic terms, the cost of producing and distributing a given TV program is independent of the number of viewers and the average cost per view will be at its lowest when the numbers of viewers are maximised as will happen if the signal is free-to-air and devoid of advertising.

The UK government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport, as part of its BBC Charter review, asked the public what they thought of various funding alternatives. Respondents were 2-1 in agreement with the statement "Advertising would interfere with my enjoyment of programmes" (59% sided with the statement and 31% disagreed with it) and 4-1 in agreement with the statement that "subscription funding would be unfair to those that could not pay" (71% agreed and 16% disagreed). They concluded, as others have done before, that the licence fee as method of funding public service broadcasting is "the least worse option".

In many countries, radio channels and broadcasters web sites are also funded by a TV licence, giving access to radio and web services free of commercial advertising, so the benefit is wider than just in the sphere of television viewing. However, in countries with a receiver licence there is a minority who oppose the system. Some of the critics dislike the very idea of a mandatory charge for using a television, they regard it as an anomaly that a person can be forced to pay the licence fee, even if they choose not to use the services it pays for. Such claims have grown stronger with the rise of multi-channel digital television funded by advertising. Critics claim that the licence fee is unjustifiable on the basis that minority interest programming can now be broadcast on specialist commercial channels.

Others argue that a fixed licence fee is a regressive tax, and thus unfair on low-income groups. Defenders of licence fees point out that, although the licence fee is a regressive tax, the same is true of many other compulsory payments such as petrol tax, vehicle tax and VAT. Furthermore, some countries attempt to make licence fees fairer to disadvantaged groups by offering discounts.

Some critics of the licence fee say that their terrestrial channels can be easily received by border cities and towns of neighbouring countries without having to pay for the licence fee of the former.

Opponents point to alternatives such as commercial funding, voluntary subscription, or funding from general taxation. However, opinion polls in most countries with a TV licence have shown that an overwhelming majority prefer the current system , as it can give them access to TV that is not driven by commercial and political pressures as is sometimes seen with commercial, subscription, and taxation funded broadcasters (and thus "dare" to show "difficult" programmes). While this argument could be seen as valid for countries where the government is likely to wish to control a taxation-funded station, it can fall short in more democratic societies. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, for instance, which is funded by general taxation, shows more political satire shows than any other station. Programmes such as "The Glasshouse", and the multiple Chaser programmes ("CNNNN", "The Chaser's War on Everything"), not only make jokes out of general politics, but are often anti-government, no matter what their policies or political orientation is.

The British government described the licence fee system as "the best (and most widely supported) funding model, even though it is not perfect". That is, they believe that the disadvantages of having a licence fee are less than the disadvantages of all other methods. In fact, the disadvantages of other methods have led to some countries, especially those in the former Eastern Bloc, to consider the introduction of a TV licence.

For example, both Bulgaria and Serbia have attempted to legislate to introduce a television licence. In Bulgaria, a fee is specified in the broadcasting law, but it has never been implemented in practice. Lithuania and Latvia have also long debated the introduction of a licence fee but so far made little progress on legislating for one. In the case of Latvia, many media commentators believe this is partly due to the fact that the government is unwilling to relinquish the control of Latvijas Televīzija that funding from general taxation gives it. In other cases, nations with licence fees, such as the Czech Republic, have increased the proportion of funding that their public broadcaster gets from licence fee. In some cases such nations have found that the existing public service broadcasters could not compete with commercial broadcasters for advertising revenues.

References

External links

TV licensing authorities

Other websites

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