TV licence must stay

SWITCH OFF: The select committee investigation has reached a predictable conclusion. Was it worth the effort?

SWITCH OFF: The select committee investigation has reached a predictable conclusion. Was it worth the effort?

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IT had 14 meetings and took 120 pages of evidence during five public hearings lasting more than eight hours in total – only to arrive at a conclusion that was obvious from the outset.

The Tynwald select committee had been tasked with investigating the feasibility and impact of withdrawing from or amending the TV licence fee.

Its conclusion?

‘Tynwald should not consider withdrawing from the historic licence fee arrangement with the UK at this time.’

The committee report, to be presented to Tynwald this week, urges that the court should instead concentrate its efforts on obtaining value for money from the BBC but that the issue should be kept under review.

Indeed it has quickly become apparent during the course of the oral hearings that the inquiry, having soon established that the licence fee will have to stay, was expanding its remit to consider how the BBC’s coverage of the island could be improved.

The committee said it had ‘no hesitation’ in concluding that the BBC’s investment in the Isle of Man was far below that in the Channel Islands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It argued that it would equitable then for the BBC to contribute, as ‘an absolute minimum’, a further £1 million per year to the Isle of Man either through services in kind or as a direct financial payment to support public service broadcasting here.

Committee chairman Graham Cregeen said: ‘The BBC’s Wilf White [the Corporation’s head of external policy] told us “tell us what you want”. The £1 million is just for starters.’

The committee argued that the BBC news from the Isle of Man reflected the editorial priorities of the North West of England and was typified by the ‘wallaby factor’, focusing on quirky items that would be of more interest to our neighbours than to island licence fee payers.

Mr Cregeen said the committee wasn’t suggesting that politicians should be influencing the BBC’s editorial output but that the BBC’s own island-based staff should decide what stories should be covered.

Among its other conclusions is that the BBC should relax its policy on website video despite concerns that it might impact on other providers of on-line audio-visual news, including Isle of Man Newspapers.

‘We conclude that support for the establishment of a proper audio-visual news service should be a high priority in the Isle of Man’s future negotiations with the BBC.’

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