Backlash over income-based ‘TV tax’ plan

Sweden's plan to replace licence fees with an income-based tax to fund public broadcasters has drawn criticism from public radio and television officials.

“Being financed through the state budget would be hitting our independence, what is often referred to as the ‘arm’s length distance’ between public service and politics, very hard,” wrote newly appointed head of Sveriges Television (SVT) Cecilia Benkö and retiring head Mats Svegfors in a joint statement.

Currently, households in Sweden pay an annual fee of 2,076 kronor ($313), which is collected on behalf of the three public broadcasters (SVT, Sveriges Radio and Sveriges Utbildningsradio) by Radiotjänst i Kiruna AB, jointly owned by the three broadcasters.

In return viewers receive five TV channels, 45 radio channels as well as TV and radio on the Internet.

However, members of the government-appointed public service committee have written an opinion piece in daily Dagens Nyheter (DN), outlining a new system whereby an income based TV-tax should be paid by everyone over 18 years of age.

At the same time as proposing the changes, the committee stressed the importance of Sweden having an independent public service. They also suggest that the national radio, Sveriges Radio (SR), change from FM to digital.

“Despite most people being against a tax financed system, the committee proposes that the existing radio-and-TV licensing fee is replaced by a tax,” Benkö and Svegfors wrote.

“We have absolutely no reason to doubt the sincere intention of the committee to protect our independence. But good intentions aren’t always enough. Swedish finance policy depends on the principle that money raised through taxation will be allocated through the state budget,” Svegfors and Benkö wrote.

However, both welcomed that the committee stressed the need for public service and the digitalization of the national radio.

Sveriges Television CEO Eva Hamilton was cautious in her evaluation of the propsed scheme.

“You’d have to be absolutely sure that a new system would be able to stay independent through potential future changes of government and economic crises,” she told news agency TT.

However, Hamilton agreed that there is a need for modernization of the fees system as it is possible today to watch broadcasts on all sorts of screens and gadgets.

But, she didn’t want to take a stand for or against the proposed system until she had familiarized herself with it.

“There are alternatives to the committee suggestions of an earmarked tax and before I have read exactly how the suggestion has been worded and what legal structures will guarantee that the subsidies are separated from the annual budget decisions, I don’t want to take a stand,” Hamilton told TT.

The committee claims that the new scheme would be a way to get to the 12 percent of Swedish households that ought to be paying their TV license fee but don’t, costing the public service companies almost a billion Swedish kronor ($151 million) each year.

However, Benkö and Svegfors are not convinced by this argument.

“Nowhere is it written that this extra billion will be guaranteed to the public service companies in the form of increased subsidies. There are no such guarantees as far as we can tell,” they wrote in DN.

TT/The Local/rm

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