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23. 03. 12. - 16:27

ORF tax hike gets go-ahead

The ORF has been given the all-clear to jack up its customer charges.

Media regulation and watchdog authority KommAustria said yesterday (Thurs) the national broadcaster’s new efficiency concept was convincing. ORF chief Alexander Wrabetz and the station’s financial affairs department leader, Richard Grasl, promised to economise in the coming years.

KommAustria said it was of great importance that the ORF did not stop focusing on delivering first-class information and entertainment despite its need to make cuts. However, the authority also criticised some aspects of the state-funded broadcasting company’s economic plans for the coming years. KommAustria warned that ORF’s forecast regarding possible revenue from advertisement might be too optimistic.

The ORF announced the upcoming TV tax hike in November. Wrabetz said that households’ monthly rate would rise "by a moderate seven per cent" from June 2012. KommAustria’s verdict makes a delay of the tax increase unlikely – despite considerable juridical uncertainties concerning the ORF’s plans to tax people with old television sets which fail to receive the ORF’s fully digitalised programme.

The bosses of ORF subsidiary company GIS, which is in charge of collecting the tax, might have to brace for legal wrangles with individuals over plans to crack down on internet users. GIS officials argue that they could listen to the ORF’s radio programmes online.

KommAustria’s decision to give the ORF’s planned tax increase the thumbs up means that residents of the western province of Vorarlberg with radio and satellite or cable TV must pay 19.78 Euros from June instead of 18.61 Euros. Vorarlberg citizens currently pay the lowest ORF charge while Styrians must brace for paying 25.18 Euros as of 1 June 2012. Residents of the central region are currently forking out the highest ORF radio and television fee.

Only 16 Euros are transferred to the media company. The rest of the tax is used by provincial governments to subsidise cultural institutions, artists and local events. Lawmakers of the whole political spectrum and media businesspeople have suggested to reform the charging policy. They dismiss the current structure as out of date due to the striking differences in rates.

The ORF’s private rivals criticise the ORF tax scheme too. Many private TV chiefs think the ORF must not charge anything at all since its programme also features commercials. They suggest to get rid of either one or the other to create fair competition on the domestic television and radio market.

National broadcaster ORF’s ORF 1 and ORF 2 television channels have a joint market share of less than 35 per cent, down from more than 43.3 per cent in 2007. Puls 4 is Austria’s most popular private TV broadcaster. The Vienna-based station has a market share of 3.2 per cent. ATV follows with a share of three per cent.

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