TV licence fee not value for money – inquiry hears

SWITCHED-ON?: Granada reporter Paul Moulton flanked by Granada news readers Tony Morris and Lucy Meacock

SWITCHED-ON?: Granada reporter Paul Moulton flanked by Granada news readers Tony Morris and Lucy Meacock

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THE island is not getting value for money for the TV licence fee in comparison with the Channel Islands.

That was the view of freelance video journalist Paul Moulton who was giving evidence to a select committee inquiry.

The Tynwald committee was set up in November 2009 to investigate the feasibility and impact of withdrawal from, or amendment of, the agreement under which residents of the Isle of Man pay a television licence fee.

During its four oral hearings that have taken place so far, however, its focus has been more on the quality of and quantity of the BBC’s coverage of Isle of Man events.

Mr Moulton, sole proprietor of PMC TV which supplies video for TV and online reports for Granada, told the committee that the Isle of Man should have a dedicated local TV service just like that in the Channel Islands.

BBC Channel Islands provides a dedicated regional 10 minute slot each weekday following the main national news on BBC One.

Mr Moulton said: ‘They produce 10 minutes a night, definitely not in the same league as North West Tonight or Granada. It’s local radio with pictures. Do people like it? They love it!’

Giving evidence to the select committee at a sitting in December, the BBC’s head of external policy Wilf White revealed that the corporation would be returning to the Manx Government £360,000 over a period of three or four years.

This is the island’s share of money underspent on the digital switchover which in the UK is now being invested in broadband.

But committee chairman Graham Cregeen MHK suggested the island was looking to get back in the region of £1 million and he asked Mr Moulton what would be on his wish-list for that money.

The witness replied: ‘A local TV service – with £1 million you could do it.’

‘Whatever is good enough for the Channel Islands is good enough for the Isle of Man.’

Committee member David Callister suggested it would not be viable for a commercial operator to set up a dedicated TV service in the Isle of Man.

Mr Moulton was dismissive of BBC promises to improve online content, suggesting this was an ‘easy route’ and one that could provide competition that could put commercial media outlets out of business.

‘I don’t think that’s an option we want to pursue. We should be getting value for money out of the licence fee.’

Asked whether the BBC should finance and run Manx Radio, Mr Moulton again cited the BBC local radio station in the Channel Islands and pointed out such a move here would save the Manx Government £1 million in subvention.

He said his news items went onto Granada Reports at least once a month but his last lead story had been about the reciprocal health agreement.

Clarifiying the position with the digital switch-over underspend, Mr White told the Examiner the sum that the Manx government would get back was based on the island’s proportion of all licence payers in the British Isles being 0.13 per cent.

He said the total sum to be returned was now estimated to be £390,000 which he said would be paid in instalments over three or four years.

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