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Licence fee to pay broadcaster

On Tuesday (20/05/2014) the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) announced funding given to producers for the production of TV, Film and Radio through the Sound and Vision Fund. The Sound and Vision Fund comes from the TV licence fee and is diverted from RTÉ to support a range of public service broadcasting across community, local, commercial and national broadcast services. The following was tweeted by CCÉ's @IrishTV_Films twitter account:-

@BAItweets continued support for PayTV through licence fee @SetantaSportsTV, @athenamediaie @RobertHope2 but it is down from previous years

— CCÉ FISÉ (@IrishTV_films) May 22, 2014

A limited twitter discussion took place between the @IrishTV_Films twitter account and the head of Athena Media, Helen Shaw, @athenamediaie. CCÉ never meant the original tweet to be a criticism of Athena Media or Setanta.

The tweet was critical of the BAI's understanding of the Broadcasting Act 2009. It was not there to suggest that Helen Shaw, Robert Hope and Setanta were wrong to accept the funding. They did so on the basis that the BAI allowed the application.

The Sound And Vision Fund

The Sound and Vision fund is provided to Producers of TV shows but they must meet the following criteria:-

Funding may only fund television programmes which are broadcast on a free television service which provides near universal coverage in the State,

or on an appropriate network provider/MMD system as part of a community content provision.

Setanta is not a Free to Air or community television provider it is a Pay TV provider.

It does provide some programming under the title "Freeview". It is during these hours that Setanta largely broadcast BAI funded programming. However this so called freeview is not free. It is provided on what is known as a Free to View (FTV) basis.

FTV differs from Free to Air (FTA) in that its content is still required to be decrypt by use of a key (a viewing card), however the material is provided on this basis across all pay networks. In other words you need to have a basic subscription to a Pay TV provider before you can watch such programming (though former Sky customers will also be able to watch such programming as long as they have retained their viewing card, however this is not near universal coverage as set out in the Act). Unlike Free to Air television which is broadcast in the clear and is not encrypted.

In Ireland such FTA channels are available by two methods, Saorview a service available to 98% of the population or FTA satellite (AKA FreeSat). 2RN also provide a FTA satellite service known as SaorSat, this covers the 2% of the population that cannot receive Saorview. Even during their so called "freeview" hours Setanta is not available on any of these FTA systems.

The BAI cannot claim that Setanta is either a free or a community service provider. Setanta does not hold a licence from the BAI for a community service and it largely sell content at a premium.

The problem with a pay broadcaster getting the licence over an FTA broadcaster would not be acceptable in other jurisdictions. Can you imagine if Sky TV were given funding from OfCom out of the licence fee for documentaries on Sky Sports, though unlike Setanta Sky could provide such programming on their FTA TV services such as Sky News, Pick and Challenge.

The BAI must distribute all of the TV Licence Fee it receives between radio, TV and film producers (AKA the Sound and Vision fund) . The same number of jobs will be created even if Pay TV channels are excluded, as they are in the act.