Swiss see Telly Tax as a Big Plus, vote against scrapping it

Country says no in licence referendum

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Policy, 5th March 2018 12:55 GMT

Swiss voters have decided to retain the country's costly TV licence in a referendum.

71.6 per cent of voters expressed a wish to keep the Telly Tax, which helps fund the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and over 30 regional TV and radio stations. The licence fee is currently 451 Swiss Franc per year, or around £348 at current exchange rates.

If the vote had gone the other way, the SBC's budgets could have been cut by up to three-quarters.

The broadcaster has been criticised for waste and perceived political bias. Advocates of the "No Billag" initiative argued that scrapping it would be more responsive and objective.

“By cutting down the subsidy [SBC] receives, a freer market for the media will exist in Switzerland,” Florian Maier, secretary general of the "No Billag" campaign argued.

The idea received sufficient votes to be turned into a formal ballot.

The case for a mandatory tax - which is what a licence fee is really - has been harder to make in a world where most taxes are either progressive (based on ability to pay), or consumption-based, where consumers pay.

The UK's BBC is keenly aware of maintaining relevance in the a la carte world of Netflix subscriptions.

A leading proponent of turning Britain's TV tax into a voluntary sub, David Elstein, has argued that the BBC has nothing to fear from a subscription model - and would probably get richer than it is today. He reasoned that a voluntary licence fee would look like good value compared to Netflix, and that a majority of viewers now access content through a Virgin or Sky sub and would happily tick the box on signup.

The BBC could even afford to lose 20 per cent of households, Elstein argued, if 40 per cent paid double the current licence fee, and 10 per cent paid treble the current licence fee, which is now £150.50. It was a "put your money where you mouth is" challenge.

Demographic trends over 50 years have been kind to the BBC - or anyone else who collects revenue on a household basis. The UK saw the number of households explode, rising faster than the population. There were 16.3 million households in 1961, 23.5 million in 1996 and 26.7 million in 2014.

Going voluntary would be bad news for the Capita collectors - who receive a bonus for selling TV licences.

MPs recently gave the BBC a telling-off for the inconvenience created by maintaining two separate databases - iPlayer login info and the Licence Fee - and not linking them. You could only guess at why. ®

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