License fees

Some of our involuntary contributions to the public coffers are clearly unavoidable, but IBA fees have become an outright annoyance.

IBA logo 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of IBA)
IBA logo 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of IBA)
On rare occasion, the proverbial little man scores a symbolic victory over the powers-that-be. His “sweet revenge,” even if not game-changing, is heartening because it reassures us that common sense can sometimes beat the odds and triumph over bureaucratic inflexibility and insensitivity.
That was the case last week when the Israel Broadcasting Authority gave in and agreed to stop demanding license fee payments from persons who do not own a TV set or whose set is not connected to either cable or satellite providers. In such cases, the IBA will make restitution for fees unfairly collected.
This was an agreement worked out in Jerusalem District Court which heard a class action suit on the matter and conferred on the deal the status of a verdict.
The damage for the anyway cash-strapped and teetering IBA could amount to tens of millions of shekels annually. But the fault is fully the IBA’s for serially treating members of the public like fools obliged to foot its bills no matter what.
This is the happy ending to a prolonged struggle involving cases submitted by fee-payers who do not possess digital converters and cannot receive broadcasts.
Analog broadcasts were discontinued in Israel as of March 2011. But this made no impression on IBA debt-collectors.
In the IBA’s worldview the existence in a home of a computer monitor alone sufficed to demand license fees. The official line consistently and obstinately was that this constituted “potential for broadcast reception – even if only a future option.”
The examples grew increasingly absurd.
A video editor was required to pay license fees for monitors he uses to go over tapes. Store-owners were liable for closed-circuit monitors because a theoretical possibility was said to exist of “picking up broadcasts.”
Some businesses were fined for playing background music from their own CDs with no connection to Israel Radio.
An Or Yehuda resident was hounded for years despite the fact that he on principle had excluded all television sets and/or monitors from his home.
The range of cases is mind-boggling. The bottom line is that the IBA has arrogantly insisted that there is almost no situation in which it can be prevented from demanding a licensing fee. “How do we know that you will not hook your monitors up to digital broadcasts without informing the authorities?” the IBA responded to one complainant.
Almost anyone who claims exemption from the fee might be treated as willfully noncompliant, be forced to prove his/her innocence and then have that proof dismissed arbitrarily.
The fees are a throwback to the early days of radio and are modeled on the British tradition of compulsory public subscription, which first appeared as the Wireless License. The license fee remains the IBA’s main source of revenue, although radio stations advertise extensively and commercial enterprises sponsor some TV fare.
But at heart, most opposition to the fee is predicated on the reality that, with a plethora of competing channels, the IBA has long ago lost its status as a TV mainstay.
Its ratings are exceedingly low and those who do not tune in cannot reconcile themselves to paying for what they do not watch.
The trouble with the IBA is that the funds it collects – often highhandedly – are not used wisely to attract viewers back to intelligent and high-quality alternatives.
Disproportionate amounts are squandered on unimaginative, stale local productions, often featuring little more than a couple of people engaged in tedious highbrow dialogue in a studio setting.
Too many fee-payers feel they are not getting their money’s worth. The manner in which the fees are collected only adds insult to injury. The combination has generated great hostility toward the IBA’s licensing fees.
This ranks high among ordinary Israelis’ pet peeves, as distinct from big economic worries and existential anxieties.
The fees are perceived as a nuisance, if not a much-reviled imposition that most Israelis consider wholly unwarranted. Some of our involuntary contributions to the public coffers are clearly unavoidable, but IBA fees have become an outright annoyance.
That is why even a small victory is so gratifying.