TV licence: a tax or a service charge?

A see-saw debate which tends to make an appearance annually in most countries has also reared its head in Poland; the question being, should the TV (and radio) licence be chased or taxed? Once that topic is tentatively approached (or the can of worms opened, depending on your point of view) the question tends to evolve to include whether the licence fee actually is of value, and in recent times, can Internet usage also be licenced?

A fairly definitive answer on the first question recently came from the ruling party, Civic Platform (PO). A report in the last couple of days on the Polskie Radio website indicated how politicians feel that it is arguably an “uncollectible tax”. This comes as it’s found that approximately 65% of Polish residents don’t pay the RTV (radio and television) licence fee. There is disappointment in government circles with this figure, as the fee of about €45 per year is one of the lowest levels in Europe. However, the main difficulty in ‘enforcing’ payment is that in Poland, inspectors do not have the authority to enter a home or business premises in order to check if a TV signal is in use. Inspectors need to ask permission to enter, and naturally most owners will refuse permission if they feel that it will result in needing to pay more money for something. Thus the figure of 65% of people not paying makes sense, when estimates say that 45% of households and 98% of business do not pay.

“We’re watching you, watching TV”

A suggestion has then arisen in budget discussions to consider using a model similar to one used in Finland, where the population are taxed slightly further to cover the costs usually incurred by public television and radio. In Poland, about 60% of the licence fee goes to Telewizja Polska with the remaining 40% going to Polskie Radio. The services provided by the television and radio stations need increasing government intervention with subsidisation, meaning that in one sense the taxation approach would seem to make sense, if the government needs to pay public money in at the moment anyways.

The suggestion of trying to impose it as a tax method might also be easier to take in Poland though, rather than other options. The option that tends to be used in the UK and Ireland is of the TV inspector and signal vans doing checks and finding those trying to evade the payment. The is advertising, notification and publication supporting the chase to pay the fee. If the Polish government tried to change the law to allow more detailed inspection, it would probably give too much of a reminder of communist times, with the thought of an inspector having the legal right to enter a home or business to perform a search. And from the Polskie Radio report, the PiS party will oppose attempts to include the licence as a further tax.

“We are broke so we are going to chase you for every possible €uro”

Once the debate on having or paying for an RTV licence arises, the discussion will almost always be swung around to the quality and value of having such public service based broadcasting. Everyone will have their own opinion, but I believe that such public broadcasting will usually fall under the category of ‘You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ – or in other words, it may often seem that there is nothing worth watching or listening to, but it will be the small things you would miss if it was not available, especially those items which you tend to remember from days gone by which trigger fond memories and nostalgia. Thus, while the quality of what is presented might not always be to everyone’s liking, it should probably be seen that as long as the licence fee is reasonable, it gives more value than people will realise.

The topic of RTV licences is not going to rest, especially as how people view TV is evolving. With increasing numbers watching through computers, laptops and other Internet-based connections, trying to enforce payment will get more difficult in all countries. There is also an undercurrent of people who are disposing of their TV sets (for various reasons) and should a government bring in a ‘universal charge’ it will annoy those who get no value for paying for it. This means that the topic of the RTV licence will always be one someone is always annoyed by the setup.

All just an EU propaganda agenda?

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5 thoughts on “TV licence: a tax or a service charge?

  1. tandrasz says:

    Abolish the fee, don’t raise income taxes, remove commercials, scale down: get rid of all rubbish that belongs in commercial stations, pay from the budget directly for domestic educational and other public interest programming. Provide all content free online from anywhere in the world.

  2. Defiant says:

    Never paid it so it doesn’t bother me. I’d rather be locked up than be forced to subsidise socialist propaganda

  3. TVs? Only granddads watch TVs. But do you need a licence fee if you only own a computer or laptop? You can stream radio and TV without an antenna…

    My point – TV licences are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

  4. GLS says:

    I understand the merit of a license fee in the UK where there are (as far as know) commercial-free TV and radio stations. In Australia we have three public, commercial free TV channels (all run by the government owned ABC) and no RTV license fee.
    During my visits to Poland I noticed that all stations play commercials and yet people refer to some of them as non-commercial, which makes no sense to me.
    If there’s no commercial-free broadcaster, why pay a license at all? The stations should cover the broadcasting cost as well as the frequency rental cost.

  5. boxgrove says:

    There is handful number of ways how to organize broadcasting:
    Public – where the viewers support a station by donating and rising money to pay for quality programming, PBS in the US
    Commercial – where broadcaster makes money by selling commercial time to potential sponsors.
    Commercial-free – usually ran by the state and paid by taxpayers or licence fee, BBC
    And 50/50 State ran with commercial content, CBC (Canada)

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