German households have to pay a monthly broadcasting license fee of around €18, regardless of whether they own a TV or radio – which some at the ORF have argued should be the case in Austria.
In the past, anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone with internet access at home was expected to pay a radio license – even if they didn't own a radio.
A TV license is still necessary for those who use a TV tuner card or DVB-T USB stick to watch and record live television on a computer.
The Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict upheld a previous ruling from a lower court – in a case brought by a Viennese man with a laptop and internet connection, who argued that he should not have to pay a license fee if he wasn’t using his computer as a ‘broadcasting reception device’.
ORF’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Grasl said that the broadcaster would soon have to start thinking about how to plug the gap in its funding and look at other European models, such as Germany and Switzerland.
He said that the court’s decision would create “two-classes of ORF listeners… those who consume ORF radio programmes in the conventional way, and pay the license fee, and people who are listening to the same programmes online, for free.”
He added that the ORF produces a comprehensive range of TV and radio programmes that offer “public value” for Austria.
The opposition Greens and Team Stronach parties welcomed the court’s decision. “To link media consumption in the 21st century with 20th century methods is not the solution,” said Greens spokesman Marco Schreuder. He added that the ruling did not mean the ORF would lose money, but that they must think of a technical solution to the problem “and make something like the TVthek App only available to license fee payers”.
“The verdict is a first step in the right direction – towards a future without compulsory ORF fees,” a statement from Team Stronach said. Team Stronach campaigns for the abolition of the license fee, claiming that the ORF is politically biased and does not stick to its stated mission of “education”.
At present it's unclear if people who have been paying the license fee but don't own a TV or radio will be able to claim that money back.
Johannes Öhlenböck, the lawyer who represented the plaintiff, said that he recommended that people without a TV and radio cancel their payments immediately and if necessary ask GIS to reassess their circumstances.
He expects there could be some cases where people go to court to claim back money.