A MAJOR shake-up of public service broadcasting in the island is being considered.
Under proposals being examined by the Department of Economic Development, Manx Radio, Energy FM and 3FM could all operate under one roof at Broadcasting House.
Instead of being used to fund programming, the government subvention – cut this year to £850,000 – would be used to provide the infrastructure, essentially the accommodation, for all three stations.
Such a sharing arrangement would have a major impact on Manx Radio and could lead to significant job losses.
A Tynwald debate on the future of the broadcasting was adjourned until December after it emerged that the new report had been presented to DED.
But Chief Minister Allan Bell, who called for the adjournment to allow for a ‘more informed debate’, was quite clear that funding could not be ring-fenced for Manx Radio.
He told Tynwald: ‘I want to make it very clear to this court and to the directors of Manx Radio there is no ring fencing in the present economic climate. Manx Radio will not be considered a special case and will have to argue its case for funding alongside every other because the same arguments put forward today could be put forward for social care, for housing and for every other service provided right across government.
‘I think the directors of Manx Radio have to get it on board we are living in very different times.’
3FM managing director Ron Berry confirmed that he presented the 100-page discussion document to DED and to the board of Manx Radio – but he declined to give details of his proposals.
He told the Examiner: ‘I can confirm I have put a discussion document together that has been presented to the Department of Economic Development and has also been shared with the board of Manx Radio.
‘At this stage it would not be appropriate to reveal its contents to the media as I would want to respect the wishes of Tynwald.’
Laurence Skelly MHK, member for DED, said: ‘It was appropriate for Tynwald to put back this debate so we can have an opportunity to review these options.’
Anthony Pugh, managing director of Manx Radio, said: ‘Manx Radio has by far the largest audience of any radio station in the island. Any new funding mechanism should ensure the needs of the audience are met and it’s for the benefit of the taxpayers of the island.
‘The board of Manx Radio are acutely aware of the financial situation of the island. It’s incumbent on the board to draw to the government’s attention the impact of recent funding reductions and the consequently impact they are likely to have on Manx Radio.’
But he said it was ultimately for Tynwald to decide the level of funding.
The government subsidy to the station was reduced in this year’s Budget from £927,000 to £850,000 – made up of a Treasury subvention of about £710,000 plus £140,000 from the refund of BBC licence fee money.
Manx Radio bosses say the cuts leave the station around £300,000 short of where it would be had government adhered to the funding formula approved by Tynwald in 2006.
A Treasury report into the public broadcasting subvention concludes that cuts in government subvention would start to impact upon the quality of Manx Radio’s output. Presenters have already been placed on freelance contracts and the number of news staff will have been cut from nine to seven this year.
In his motion to last week’s Tynwald, Speaker Steve Rodan called on the court to reaffirm its commitment to public service broadcasting in the island and to endorse Manx Radio as the island’s national broadcaster. It was the debate on that motion that was adjourned until December.
In Tynwald, Howard Quayle MHK (Middle) asked how the report presented to DED could be independent if it was from a competitor of Manx Radio. He said he was happy for the debate to be adjourned if the court was to get independent advice but not that from a vested interest.
Mr Rodan said: ‘The role of public service broadcasting is very important. If there are more effective and efficient ways it can be delivered then we have a duty to look at them.
‘We will look at any constructive proposal to see whether they meet the test of real public service broadcasting that is independent from government and is efficient from the point of view of the taxpayer.
‘In my opinion a taxpayers’ subvention is there to guarantee reporting, speech programming and elements of broadcasting which would otherwise not be commercially viable.’