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COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark will become the first European country to abolish mandatory fees for public broadcasters after the government secured backing for a proposal that includes a 20 percent budget cut for the biggest state TV and radio outlet, DR.
Scrapping the fee paid by households reflects a change in the way modern media is consumed, with streaming services such as Netflix and HBO gaining popularity.
The centre-right Danish government and its ally, the nationalist Danish People's party, argue the fee has become too large and that the national broadcasters need to streamline their operations.
Every household currently pays an annual amount of 2,527 Danish crowns ($416) to fund the public broadcasters, which dominate Denmark's news output and air the most watched programmes.
The fee will be phased out over a five year period starting Jan. 1, 2019, and public service broadcasters will instead be financed through taxes, Minister for Culture Mette Bock said.
"Media use in Denmark is going through a massive change. That calls for a more up to date media policy. We need to strengthen the media diversity demanded by the citizens," Bock told a news conference Thursday.
Opponents of the budget cut argue it would reduce nationally produced television, entertainment and trustworthy news, citing its importance for a diverse Danish culture and a well-informed society.
"Denmark is facing major challenges on the media area. Fake news, infiltration from foreign powers and foreign media giants threaten the cohesion in Denmark," said Soren Sondergaard, media spokesperson of The Red-Green Alliance opposition party.
While all parties, including The Red-Green Alliance, agreed to abolish the licence fee, opposition parties oppose the reduced budget for public broadcasters, which includes a 20 percent budget decrease for the biggest public broadcaster, DR.
Switzerland in March voted to retain its mandatory licence fee, with opponents to the cut arguing it would reduce independence for broadcasters and undermine services for Switzerland's four different linguistic regions.
(Reporting by Emil Gjerding Nielson; Additional reporting by Erik Matzen; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Alison Williams)