Digital television era comes in tonight
TV licence inspectors could face redundancy
The introduction of digital television is set to lead to a reappraisal of the position of TV licence inspectors. The expediency of maintaining a force of licence inspectors has been called into question now that nearly every device with a picture screen is capable of showing television images.
"The logic of television fees would not work in the same way, when there are so many channels of distribution. TV licence inspectors would certainly not function in this multi-channel distribution field", argues Minister of Communications Suvi Lindén (National Coalition Party).
During the coming winter, representatives of the different political parties will begin thinking in their working groups on options for the future financing of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) after 2010. There is no clear answer as yet, but a majority of the party secretaries and chairs of the Parliamentary groups of Finland's five largest political parties interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat did not reject the idea of dropping licence fees out of hand.
"The licence fee is unfair. A family of four earning a high income can watch for the same amount of money as a low-income pensioner", notes Annika Lapintie, chairwoman of the Parliamentary group of the Left Alliance.
Some go even further in their views. Johanna Jääsaari examined Finnish and Canadian public broadcasting policy in a doctoral dissertation submitted to the Turku-based Swedish language university Åbo Akademi.
"In Finland, the special position of YLE smothers cultural policy and all kinds of new innovations in the field of the media", she charges.
In Jääsaari's view, YLE is no longer able to react quickly to changes in the world. For instance, programmes are produced for immigrants only reluctantly.
In Canada, all TV broadcasters fulfil public service broadcasting tasks. They are required to regularly draw up precise reports and plans on how they are to promote Canadian culture and identity. Part of the public service in Canada is also financed through public funds.
Jääsaari feels that this kind of a model emphasising culture policy would also be appropriate for Finland. She argues that matters concerning YLE could be placed under the authority of the Ministry of Culture, and not the Ministry of Transport and Communications, as is the case now.
YLE Director-General Mikael Jungner is not enthusiastic about the proposal to eliminate Finland's TV licence inspectors.
According to Jungner, without the inspectors, the whole system of licence fees would not have much credibility.
"The inspectors make sure that the licence fees are not paid merely by the most honest Finns", he said.
Jungner also takes a somewhat negative view of the financing of YLE through the state budget, although he feels that the idea of a YLE tax would be worth investigating.
"YLE has been made into an efficient, independent media house. Budgetary financing would be a step backwards in this respect. It makes long-term planning more difficult", Jungner asserts.
Jungner also disagrees with calls by Minister of Communications Suvi Linden for a reduction in YLE's own programme production. He says that it is important for YLE to be self-sufficient, and that production should remain in the hands of domestic producers.
Jungner rejects complaints by competitors that YLE distorts the market.
"The situation is quite the opposite. YLE creates markets. YLE would deserve an entrepreneurship prize for this digital project." As Jungner sees it, YLE has created new opportunities for commercial channels to make money on a new market.
Previously in HS International Edition:
The great consensus that gave birth to digital TV (28.8.2007)
TV Licensing in Finland