The Italian TV Tax

19 Oct

The other night while I was out to dinner with a group of friends, after bemoaning the state of income taxes this year (my husband had to fork over nearly 65% of his earnings this year for various professional taxes—practically our entire life savings), the question was posed to the group: “Ma tu paghi il canone?” But do you pay the TV tax? A lively discussion ensued.

I have always been amused and baffled by the “canone” (CAH-no-nay). In Italy, everyone who owns a television is supposed to pay this “TV tax.” Theoretically it goes to fund the three state-run channels, ever-so-creatively known as Rai Uno, Rai Due, and Rai Tre. (RAI stands for Radio Televisione Italiana). But a good point was raised the other night: there are commercials on Rai. Lots and lots of them. So where’s that money going? Hmmm…

The TV tax is an annual tax to the tune of €104 (with today’s exchange rate, nearly $150 USD), up in 2007 from three years steady at €99,40. Rai likes to officially call it an “abbonamento,” which is a subscription. So, in Italy, you have to “subscribe” to get the three state-run channels. Apparently, the first time you ever purchase a television for your household, you’re supposed to be a good citizen and, on your honor, march your way down to the post office to voluntarily declare yourself a new TV owner and thus fork over the cash for your “subscription.” Mind you, the channels will come in just fine without you paying, and you’ll also get a small handful of about four other non-state run (read: Berlusconi-controlled) networks for which no official tax is required. But since the tax has been in place since the time when radio first went on the air in Italy in 1924 (to listen one had to subscribe, and by the end of 1924 there were about 15,000 people signed up and paying the annual canone), nowadays it’s pretty rare that a household hasn’t already established itself in the bowels of the Rai canone bureaucracy. Meaning that a “bolletta” (bill) arrives annually announcing that it’s time to “renew your subscription.”

You can imagine how ridiculous most Italians think this is. In doing a little web surfing to research this, the first post I ran across was this one titled “Canone Rai: The Most Useless Tax in History.” The writer expressed what I’ve heard so many Italians say, that I’ll translate a bit of it below:

Mi ricordo ancora quando a casa mi è arrivato il primo bollettino della rai.. ho pensato: che cosa??? devo dare soldi allo stato per poter guardare la tv?? in più per la rai?? ho preso e ho stracciato la bolletta , e faccio lo stesso tutti gli anni quando mi arriva… Guardo la rai , si fa per dire solo quando ci sono i mondiali o gli europei, e anche in quei momenti non sono mai a casa mia, quindi perchè devo pagare per un servizion di cui non usufruisco?? La programmazione è una delle più scadenti, e in più la pubblicità è pari a quella delle reti private.. dove sta il vantaggio che traggono dai nostri soldi?? quello di invitare john travolta a Sanremo e per 5 minuti pagarlo centinaia di miliaia di euro??

“I remember when my first RAI canone bill arrived… I thought: What??? I have to pay the State in order to watch TV? And what’s more, to watch Rai?? I took the bill and tore it up, and I do the same thing every year when it arrives… I watch Rai, meaning only when there’s the World Cup or European Championship, and even then I’m never at home, so why should I have to pay for a service that I never use?? The programming is some of the worst, and what’s more the advertising is just like the private networks… where is the advantage that comes from the money we pay?? Inviting John Travolta to the Sanremo Music Festival and paying him hundreds of thousands of euros for a 5-minute appearance?”

That pretty much sums it up, I’d say. Rai isn’t anything like the only other public TV network I’m familiar with, the equivalent in the States known as PBS, which is commercial-free and viewer-funded by donations. In my opinion, the quality of Rai is equivalent to the private-run networks, in the sense that there isn’t much to set it apart or give it any reason to charge for a sort of higher-quality programming. I will admit that there are some historical documentaries (usually WWII, they seem to be obsessed for some reason) that are good, but they always come on at about midnight. Otherwise, you’re looking at the same glitzy, scantily-clad game show and sad variety-show/reality-show fare that makes every day look just a little more like Carnevale in Brazil.

So, back to our dinner-table question: Do you pay the canone?

There were about 10 people at the table, all in their early to mid 30s. Those who live on their own all said they never pay. One said he didn’t pay, then said, “My parents do.” (Still living at home. ;-))

Ok then, let’s talk tax evasion. TV tax evasion. What happens if you don’t pay?

First, they send a “threatening” letter. If you ignore it, then apparently they send a TV tax inspector to your house to make you pay. To that, everyone says, “Well, you’d never answer the door for them! Pretend you aren’t home!” I think it’s pretty rare that anyone would ever get a home visit, but I have heard stories of it happening. And if you STILL refuse to pay the TV tax? Apparently the person who comes a-calling does a nice little “sigillo” of your TV. They seal it up so you can’t watch it anymore.

So what if you want to watch the other, non-state run channels and claim that you don’t watch Rai? As far as I know, that’s a no-go. It’s all or nothing.

Rai defends itself on its subscriber page with a table demonstrating that Italy has the lowest canone of all European nations. But here it defines canone as “la principale fonte di finanziamento del servizio pubblico,” — the main source of public-service financing. Which I guess we are to assume is the “public service” of state-run television. I don’t know about other European nations.

What if you want to “unsubscribe”? There are two conditions: either you declare that you no longer have any TVs in your house (quoting their site “for example, due to theft or fire”), or, and let’s quote:

L’abbonato cede tutti gli apparecchi in suo possesso dando esatta comunicazione delle generalita’ e indirizzo del nuovo possessore.

“The subscriber gives away all of the TVs in his possession, providing specific communication of the details and address of the new owner.”

So the new owner can pay the TV tax, of course.

And just in case you’re wondering, in our house we don’t pay the TV tax either, but we may be one of the few legal cases in existence. My husband, the lawyer, years ago sued Rai over the tax, I have no idea on what grounds, and won. Ha! See, sometimes justice is served here in Italy.


20 Responses to “The Italian TV Tax”

  1. Giulia October 19, 2007 at 1:45 pm #

    OK, so now you know you have to tell us on what grounds your husband sued them with so that we can do the same! 😉

  2. kataroma October 19, 2007 at 1:58 pm #

    Well, even if it’s true that the Italian TV tax is the lowest in Europe, other European countries (as far as I know) don’t have tons of advertising and completely commercialised shows on their state TV channels.

    The BBC in the UK does not carry advertising so much as one might complain about the TV tax which they also have in the UK – at least you can see where the money goes.

    Here, RAI has tons and tons of ads and commercial programming but still we have to pay all this money? Just wrong.

    A funny story – years ago my boyfriend received a visit from the TV tax cops who tried to make him fork over the money. BUT, he didn’t own a TV!

  3. kataroma October 19, 2007 at 1:59 pm #

    I should also add that the BBC has tons of really fantastic non-commercial shows which are made possible my the fact that they are non-commercial!

    I really wonder where the RAI money goes…if you find out let us know!

  4. nyc/caribbean ragazza October 19, 2007 at 2:03 pm #

    I know you pay a TV tax in the UK but like Kataroma said there is no way the same amout of advertising. RAI either needs to have better programming or lower the tax. I too wonder where is that money going.

  5. Sherry October 19, 2007 at 4:02 pm #

    This is so interesting to me as I have never heard of such a thing. But then again, on second thought, we essentially have tv taxes of sorts in the States, at least taxes that are specific to cable subscribers. I remember watching the state run channels while we were there on holiday and thinking they were nothing like PBS. Good for your husband for raging against the machine that is RAI. Legal knowledge can be deadly.

  6. squiggy October 19, 2007 at 4:25 pm #

    Great post. I’m with you guys- i REFUSE to pay such a ridiculous tax because 1) i hardly ever watch TV 2) most of the programs on RAI make me sick…
    Also, if i wanted to pay a cable “Tax”/service (like people do in USA), I would get myself some digital cable so i could actually watch a REAL variety of channels as opposed to picking between the crappy 5-6 channels presently available in Italy. But from what i know- once you sign up for fastweb TV or SKy, the Rai zeroes in on you (because they have proof that you have a TV) so you end up having to pay the senseless TV tax PLUS the fee for digital cable.
    so insane!

  7. finnyknits October 19, 2007 at 6:51 pm #

    #1: Thanks for my daily Italian lesson. Getting better at comprehension and now I know how to say “World Cup”, which I imagine is a useful thing to know in Italy.

    #2: Bless Ale’s heart. If they’re going to make these rules, at least someone else is out there putting them to the test.

    Between Rai and the FCC…

  8. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy October 19, 2007 at 7:00 pm #

    And WHAT programming!! Don’t get me started.

    Anyway, I think it’s great how they “regulate” it, they send a message only when you change residencies…we got a bill for the TV when we were in Pavia…and we didn’t even physically own one!

  9. Barbara October 19, 2007 at 10:30 pm #

    AS stranieri we’ve always felt that it was our duty to pay the tax….it was one of the quirks of living in Italy, so we just accepted it. Now that we’re thinking about moving back to the states, I’m wondering if THIS January might be the perfect time to save €104. Wonder how long we’d have before they came knocking???

  10. Francesca October 19, 2007 at 10:53 pm #

    I think your husband should tell the Associazioni Consumatori on which grounds he sued, so we can get this monkey off all our backs! Me? I hide my tv which I watch about once a month in a closet.
    f maggi

  11. Tui October 19, 2007 at 11:32 pm #

    How serendipitous! Angelo was just telling me about the ‘canone’ tax today, and your post really helped clarify what he was saying, ‘cuz I found it all rather odd, but hey – turns out it is rather odd! OK, capito. 😉

  12. SWT October 20, 2007 at 6:34 am #

    we’ve never paid ours and never will. remember that the finance police would need a warrant to enter your home to see if you have a tv or eventually “seal” the tv. and with all the problems in this country I don’t think warrants are being issued to collect tv taxes!!

  13. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 20, 2007 at 1:18 pm #

    I asked Ale later on yesterday the details of his case against Rai. I had just always heard him tell people “I don’t pay because I won a suit against them” but I never asked why.

    He told me that he contacted Rai asking them to come to his house and “seal off” his TV because he wanted to “cancel his subscription” so as legally not to pay anymore. I think he must have known they’d never come (tip: whenever you voluntarily try to create work for public employees, they usually recoil in horror). So they never showed up to seal off the TV. But they started to send letters, etc. demanding payment. So Ale took the case to court, saying they couldn’t demand payment since he had officially requested to end his “subscription” but they never took the necessary steps to comply with his request, so how in the world was he expected to pay when he had already specifically requested to end service? The judge agreed and they still never showed up to seal off the TV. What a joke of a system.

  14. Kataroma October 20, 2007 at 2:14 pm #

    Shelley – that is HILARIOUS! Good work, Ale! 🙂

  15. J.Doe October 20, 2007 at 5:23 pm #

    When living in Italy we ALWAYS paid this tax. Now it seems like the majority of people don’t pay it and nothing seems to happen to them. Please explain how you got out of paying this tax. I’m curious. Even though I am not planning a move back there, I have family members who also pay this tax.

  16. The O'Connors October 21, 2007 at 12:42 pm #

    It’s the same in Engand, same in Ireland, same in Romania. They do a funny trick in Romania – the TV/Radio bill is included in the electricity bill. It’s not much, I am OK to pay it, there are some good programs and movies on TVR Cultural. The most annoying thing is that you cannot have intenet through cable if you are not a TV cable subscriber (private company…).

  17. Jeff October 22, 2007 at 9:52 am #

    Ha, I’ve never paid the tax. I don’t pay for something that is truly worthless. When I heard what they paid the lovely Michelle Hunziker to host San Remo I vowed to never pay. I think she has great..ugh..talent, but come on.
    I’ve never registered the two TV’s that I’ve bought since I got here and I’ve never received a bill so far. TV police. I’m pretty sure they couldn’t find my place. Fastweb never did and I wanted them to come.

  18. gheo November 20, 2007 at 11:36 pm #

    From Romania: Yes, The O’Connors are right: the slyer Romanian authority makes you pay the tax together with the electricity bill. Your main choice is: no tax, no electricity.
    There are some bureaucratic ways to get rid of the tax, but it’s too much trouble for the money you pay.
    By the way, the Italian TV tax is NOT the smallest in Europe. Maybe in the Western Europe. In Romania – with better national stations! – one pays 48 ROL per year, that means less than 15 euros (or 20 dollars). Per year, yes.

  19. patavina December 3, 2008 at 11:39 pm #

    hello, I just googled canone TV and sigilli and came up with this blog. thank you for the info. I live in US, but my parents are in Italy, in the process of going into a nursing home. So I would like to stop this tax as of january 2009. what is the best way to proceed?

  20. Fabio May 28, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    Rai is not a public service, but a public disservice. Many money, too much money only to be inundated by advertising.
    Italian law says that it should be paid because it is a fee. You must pay even if you have a computer with Internet access. 😦

    Welcome in Italy …

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