RIGA - Latvia might adopt a new subscription plan to collect fees for radio and television use in order to underwrite public programming, with the final decision to be made by Parliament by the end of the year.
According to the draft bill, the proposed subscription program would charge 0.6 lat (0.93 euro) for radio, or a combined cost of 1.5 lats for both radio and television. To simplify payments, subscribers would be given the option of paying the monthly subscription fee along with their electricity bill.
Two of the bill's biggest proponents are Ilmars Rakins, head of the National Radio and Television Council, and Uldis Grava, general director of Latvian Television.
"Latvia is about to join the rest of Europe. There are certain European standards" for independence and quality of programming, Grava told The Baltic Times.
Latvia had a similar system regarding radio during the interwar years, Grava pointed out.
Among current EU nations and acceding countries set to join next May, only Malta receives less funding than the Baltic states for public television and radio.
According to Grava, subscription revenues would provide resources for cultural programming, which typically does not bring in the advertising revenues that adult material does, and independence from political decisions regarding budgetary allocations.
"With an increase in funding from the public, government support in the future could also be reduced," Grava said.
Discounts for pensioners and people that live in the country who have limited financial resources could be made available to offset the costs, Rakins told the Baltic News Service.
A standard fee would be applied to the household and not to the number of televisions and radios.
"A household could have 10 TVs and more radios, yet only pay for one radio and one television," Rakins said.
The Saeima (Latvia's parliament) is currently reviewing the law, and if passed it could take effect by next year.
Those watching the proposal unfold remain uncertain about the form that the law would take if passed. Grava suggested possibly phasing the plan in over a period of five to 10 years.
Before the fee could be implemented Rakins would like to see a sociological survey carried out to determine how many people in Latvia would be ready to pay the tax.
"Public service television cannot exist in a free market without public funding," said Grava.
If the tax were implemented, the funding for public radio and television would still rely on the government and advertising for two-thirds of its funding.
In the past a similar tax has been defeated twice by both private television entities worried about competition and minority groups who did not want to fund Latvian-language programming.