Sweden this week became the latest country to abolish the radio and TV licence fee.
With effect from 1 January, the old system of a payment due from any household with a radio or TV set has been replaced by a fee levied on individuals liable for income tax aged over 18. The fee is based on 1% of taxable income, up to a maximum of Skr 1,300 ($144) per person. Anyone with no taxable income, such as full-time students, will not have to pay.
The fee will be collected by the Swedish Tax Agency, which will pay the proceeds into a public service account which will be used to fund the country’s public broadcasters: SVT (TV), Sveriges Radio and educational service Utbildningsradion.
The move was agreed by Parliament in November last year after an enquiry by a cross-party committee. Last year, the radio and TV fee was set at Skr2,400 ($266) per year.
With the number of linear TV channels available in most households proliferating and with timeshifted and on demand viewing on the rise, the foundations of licence fee-funded public broadcasting are weakening. In Sweden, increasing rates of non-payment were a key reason for the reform; according to government figures, the public broadcasting account had run up a deficit of between Skr200-300 ($22-33 million).
If Sweden’s reform takes root without snags, other countries could also adopt similar reforms. France is preparing new legislation governing public broadcasting. In the UK, while the current BBC Charter is in place until 2027, the government is withdrawing funding for licence fees for people aged over 75 in 2020, and the BBC has launched a consultation over whether it should take over the obligation (which is expects will cost more than $900 million in 2021/20) or re-introduce some form of charging.