The Nordics replace licence fee with public service tax
The Nordic flags. Photo: Johannes Jansson/Norden.org
The Norwegian Government has proposed to replace the country’s radio and TV licence fee with a public service tax. Once adopted, it would mean that all the Nordic countries now have – or are on their way to having – shifted to tax-based funding of public service media. Still, the models chosen are not totally alike.
In March, the Norwegian Government proposed a tax model for the future financing of NRK, the Norwegian public service company. If the proposal is adopted, which is likely as the Government is backed by a majority in the Storting (Norway’s parliament), all Nordic countries will have chosen to abolish the licence fee.
The Nordics’ shift from licence to tax financing has happened over the course of just a decade. The aim has been formulated as that of creating a long-term and technology-neutral financing for public service media.
The first country to shift was Iceland, introducing a public service tax in 2009, followed by Finland in 2013. And now, the other countries are following suit: Sweden switched to tax financing at the beginning of this year; while Denmark will gradually shift from licence fees to tax funding during the period 2019-2021, ending with full tax funding from 2022 forward. The Norwegian proposal entails tax funding from 2020.
Throughout all the countries, the public service tax is platform-neutral. The tax is paid by those who have a taxable income above a certain level (those with low income pay a reduced fee, or nothing). There is also an age limit: in Iceland, the tax is paid by people aged 16-70 years and in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, by people aged 18+; while in Norway, the proposed lower age limit is 17 years.
The tax replaces the previous household licence fee, linked to the possession of a TV set (in Denmark, the media licence also includes computers, smartphones and tablets with internet access).
Despite the similarities, there are differences between the models. The tax can be designed as a special public service tax, as a regular tax or as a reduction of the basic deduction. As for the tax level, Iceland and Denmark have a fixed sum, while the other countries have chosen an income-related tax. Another difference is whether the fee is included or kept outside the annual state budget negotiations.
More about the models in the different countries:
- The Icelandic public service tax, introduced in 2009, is a special tax, included in the annual state budget. The level of the tax is fixed; that is, everyone with an income above a certain level pays the same sum, currently ISK 17,500 or about EUR 130 per person and year. The tax contributes to two-thirds of RÚV's revenues, while advertising accounts for the rest.
- Since 2013, the Finnish public service company Yle is funded through a special public broadcasting tax: the Yle tax. This tax, outside the state budget, is income-based and corresponds to 2.5 per cent of a person’s taxable income. At most, one person pays EUR 163 per year. By law, the Yle tax is to be adjusted annually in line with changes in cost-of-living indexes. But already in 2015 an exception was made from the annual increase, and after a working group’s proposal in 2016, the index adjustment was frozen for the years 2017-2019. Nevertheless, for 2018, Finland’s parliament raised both the tax rate (from 2 to 2.5 per cent) and the free amount that determines when no tax has to be paid.
- In Denmark, the licence will be phased out gradually over three years. The new public service tax is included in the state budget, and financed by reducing the basic tax deduction for all Danes aged 18+. At the same time, DR's income is to be gradually reduced by 20 per cent over five years. The decision on the new model was taken in March 2018 (in Danish), and was followed up in the media policy agreement for 2019-2023.
- In Sweden, the public service media companies – SVT, SR and UR – have tax-based funding since January 1, 2019, following a decision by the Riksdag (Sweden’s parliament) in 2018. As in Finland, it is a special public service fee, kept outside the state budget. The fee corresponds to one per cent of a person’s taxable income, with a ceiling of SEK 1,347 (approximately EUR 130) per person and year. The Riksdag decides on the allocation of fees to the programme companies for the whole licence period (which replaces the previous annual assessments). Currently, new broadcasting licences for SVT, SR and UR for the period 2020-2025 are being prepared.
- For Norway, the Government has proposed that a public service tax replace the licence fee from 2020. The tax will be income-related and, as in Denmark, financed by a reduction of the basic deduction. The deduction corresponds to a real tax of NOK 1,700 (approximately EUR 175) per person per year – as a ceiling. The NRK budget is included in the state budget, but will be stretched to cover four years at a time. According to plan, the Government’s media proposal (in Norwegian) will be discussed by the Storting on 11 June this year.
Download matrixes/tables from Nordicom’s table database (Excel):
- Public service organisations and their main funding systems in the Nordic countries 2019 (Jan.)
- Annual public service license fee and/or tax fee in the Nordic countries 2002-2019 (in local currencies and euro)
Note: This text is about individual taxes. In Finland and Iceland legal entities are also covered by a tax liability, while the systems in Denmark and Sweden are based on individuals only.
Government 16.03.2018 - agreement between the Government and Dansk Folkeparti about abolishing the licence fee and reducing DR’s financing:
News: Licensen afskaffes og DR slankes
Agreement: Aftale om fokusering af DR og afskaffelse af medielicensen
The Ministry of Culture: Medieaftaler i Danmark [Media Agreements]
Nordicom 04.07.2018: Det danska medieavtalet 2019-2023 är klart
The tax-based funding of the Finnish public service broadcaster Yle,
by Marina Österlund-Karinkanta. Article published by the European Audiovisual Observatory as a third-party publication (16.08.2016).
The Finnish Tax Administration: Public Broadcasting Tax
Lag om statens televisions- och radiofond [Act on the State Television and Radio Fund]
Public Service Financing in the Nordic Countries, by Lars-Åke Engblom, in Public Service Media from a Nordic Horizon, pp. 93-106 (Nordicom, 2013)
Government press release 29.03.2019: Regjeringa vil endre mediestøtta for å sikre langsiktig og føreseieleg finansiering [Government wants to change media support to ensure long-term and predictable funding]
White paper: Meld. St. 17 (2018–2019): Mangfald og armlengds avstand — Mediepolitikk for ei ny tid [Plurality and Arm’s-length Distance – Media Policy for a New Time]
The Government: New financing of public service adopted
The Swedish Tax Agency: Public service-avgift [Public service fee]
NORDIC OVERVIEWS - in Norwegian and Swedish
Några nationella utredningar/förslag/betänkanden som beskriver finansieringen av public service-medier i de nordiska länderna:
Meld. St. 17 (2018–2019): Mangfald og armlengds avstand — Mediepolitikk for ei ny tid: 3.5 Mediestøtte i andre europeiske
land (sid 38 ff); 4.5 Forholdet til EØS-avtalen sine reglar om offentleg støtte (sid 54); 8.2.2 Fastsetjing av økonomiske rammer i andre
land (sid 81 ff).
Rimmereid-rapporten: Finansering av @NRK. Alternative fremtidige modeller for offentlig finansiering av NRK (2016): 5. Internasjonale avtaler og andre land (sid 36 ff)
SOU 2017:79: Finansiering av public service – för ökad stabilitet, legitimitet och stärkt oberoende (pdf) (2017): 5.2. Finansierings-modeller i andra länder (sid 80 ff)