£1 million BBC boost for Isle of Man ‘unrealistic’

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IT is unrealistic to expect the BBC to invest significantly more into services into the Isle of Man.

That’s the response of the Council of Ministers into a Tynwald select committee’s conclusion that the BBC should spend ‘as an absolute minimum’ a further £1 million per year to the Isle of Man either through services or as a direct financial payment in support of public service broadcasting.

It was a conclusion that Isle of Man Newspapers’ editor Richard Butt found ‘disturbing’. In an email to the committee, he warned: ‘£1m is considerably more than my entire annual budget to fill the editorial content of three weekly newspapers and our internet site.

‘To have an extra £1m potentially used for editorial coverage of the Isle of Man will be highly destabilising for us and the rest of the genuinely commercial media in the island.’

Mr Butt claimed that the genuinely commercial media were already being ‘undermined by the state’ thanks to Manx Radio’s subvention money and the station’s ‘cosy relationship’ with the BBC – and insisted the ‘obvious and sensible solution’ was to end the ‘damaging’ hybrid commercial/public Manx Radio and ask the BBC to run an entirely commercial-free radio station in its place.

That would give the licence fee payer better value for money and relieve the Manx taxpayer of the burden of paying for Manx Radio’s subvention. He felt the Isle of Man would have a good argument since Jersey and Guernsey both have a BBC radio station each, plus commercial alternatives.

CoMin, in its response to the select committee report which will be debated in Tynwald next week, said that with the BBC facing budget cuts of 20 per cent cut across the corporation an additional £1 million worth of investment would not appear to be realistically achievable.

It added: ‘Given these constraints, the Council of Ministers accepts that it is not realistic to expect significantly higher financial investment from the BBC for Isle of Man services at this time.’

But CoMin said it was encouraged that the BBC had advised that its team in the Isle of Man was ‘completely protected and would see at least an additional £100,000 spent on the island’.

The Tynwald select committee – made up of David Callister MLC, Graham Cregeen MHK and Phil Gawne MHK – was set up in November 2009 to investigate the feasibility and impact of Manx residents withdrawing from paying the TV licence fee.

But it quickly became apparent that withdrawal was not feasible and the committee soon expanded its remit to look at how the BBC could improve its services to the Isle of Man.

Nevertheless the committee came up with a series of recommendations when it reported back to Tynwald in July last year.

Among the recommendations approved by Tynwald was for CoMin to look at how a number of priorities could be achieved – that the BBC should treat the island as an independent nation, that it should provide more comprehensive coverage of Manx affairs and that the corporation should introduce a daily audio-visual news service dedicated to Manx affairs possibly delivered via the internet. It is prevented from showing footage that has not been broadcast on television on the internet in the UK because of fears of unfair competition with commercial media.

Following talks with the Communications Commission, CoMin has described most of these priorities as unrealistic or requiring no further action.

Outlining recommendations of its own, it calls for the commission to continue to monitor and encourage further developments. It says responsibilities for broadcasting and media policy should continue to rest with the commission and that the Minister for Home Affairs should continue to hold the position of chairman of the commission.

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