how is public broadcasting funded in the UK, Germany and India?

How to finance public broadcasting? The debate is revived in France within the framework of the presidential campaign. Several candidates want to abolish the TV license fee. Elsewhere in Europe, the status of the public information service and its budget are also causing controversy.

The UK will abolish the license fee

In the United Kingdom, television license fees are in their penultimate days. Last January, the government announced the end of this tax for 2027. The Minister of Culture froze the price of the “television license” for two years: 159 pounds or 190 euros that the British must pay each year to take advantage of the audiovisual public service. The next increase, in 2023, will therefore be the last, before the outright abolition of the audiovisual license fee.

Politicians have been talking about removing it for years. Eventually, the announcement was part of Operation Red Meat, that series of populist promises that were meant to distract from the Partygate that Boris Johnson was mired in at the start of 2022. The head of government had apologized for taking part at a party during the May 2020 lockdown.

The license fee brings in 3.75 billion pounds (4.4 billion euros) to the BBC each year. How to replace it? That’s the thousand pound question. The Minister of Culture should soon launch a consultation. Several ways to avoid the closure of one or more British radio and television services: introduce a dedicated tax on internet subscriptions – at the risk of skyrocketing prices – authorize the BBC to broadcast advertising, but that would not be enough .

Another idea has come up a lot in recent weeks, acclaimed by the conservatives: transform the public service into a Netflix-type service, which would operate by subscription. An optional contribution therefore, adapted to computers but not to televisions, and which risks diverting some of the British from their “Auntie”, their “tata”, as it is nicknamed in the United Kingdom.

The German license fee, a matter of principle

In Germany, the audiovisual license fee, the Rundfunkbeitrag, is compulsory. Each household must pay 18.36 euros per month. The amount is the same regardless of the number of inhabitants in the accommodation. You have to pay, even if you don’t have a television or radio. Some exceptions exist, in particular for scholarship students.

Companies, big and small, must also contribute. It is assumed that you will at some point enjoy radio, TV or a public media website on a phone or computer. Everyone must show solidarity, for independent, quality public service media that are important for the proper functioning of society. Media that live well: the license fee brings in around eight billion euros a year. More than double what the French royalty brings in.

The system seems to work, which does not prevent regular criticism. First, because the services that collect this fee are very well organised. It takes very little time, for example, to receive a reminder letter after a move. The GEZ, the nickname of this royalty, therefore annoys.

The subject often comes up in public debate. The extreme right wants to abolish the system. The right regularly calls for a reduction in programs or channels, that it costs less. And then the left would like it to be sometimes more European, sometimes more regional. The Federal Constitutional Court even had to intervene last year. The Land of Saxony-Anhalt had tried to block the increase in the amount of the fee. The judges agreed with the public media, recalling their “growing importance” against fake news.

The Indian audiovisual sector financed and controlled by the government

In India, public media are directly funded by the state, which controls its budget. And also increasingly influences their content. India’s public broadcasting group, Prasar Bharti, is a huge machine with 25,000 employees, which includes a television channel and a radio. It legally enjoys autonomy, but it is more theoretical than real.

Firstly, Prasar Bharti’s budget is voted every year by the government, and it has also fallen by 11% in two years. Employees are also civil servants, which reduces their independence. The channels are thus supposed to offer a neutral vision of information, but never question the word of the government. Rather, they amplify his word by broadcasting almost all of the Prime Minister’s public events. A public television executive Doordarshan was recently suspended, under pressure from Narendra Modi’s office, for having cut off the broadcast of one of his speeches.

The Prime Minister also uses the radio skillfully. All India Radio has a monopoly on radio news broadcasting in India. The private radios do not have the right to report information independently, which gives enormous power to this public radio which reaches all Indians in the countryside. For eight years that he has been in power, Narendra Modi has broadcast a half-hour speech there, one Sunday a month. A monologue à la Castro, which makes it possible to convey his political messages while presenting himself as the man of the people who speaks directly through the post. Communication without restrictions or awkward questions.

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