Manx Radio’s 50thbirthday celebrations dampened by Select Committee recommendations.

The Public Media Alliance [PMA] provides support and advocacy for public media worldwide, especially when the core principles of public media are under threat.  PMA is based in the UK but while much of our work takes us to distant countries, our concern has recently been raised by the parliamentary proceedings of a country very close to our base.

The year began well for the Isle of Man public broadcaster, Manx Radio. The station was about to celebrate its 50thbirthday on the 16thJanuary as the country’s parliament, known as the Tynwald, confirmed that it, ‘Reaffirms its commitment to public service broadcasting’.

Earlier this year the European Broadcasting Union [EBU] published a report on public service media’s contribution to democracy, underlining the democratic value of quality news and why public service media matters in this regard. There is little doubt that public media underpins informed democracy. It might be assumed that politicians in the Isle of Man, an island that prides itself on its 1000 year-old parliament, would have an understanding of the key role that public media plays in society.

But the 50thbirthday year has not continued so well for Manx Radio.  On 8thNovember, a ‘Tynwald’ Select Committee published its second and final report on Public Service Media. The report makes 11 recommendations which, if implemented, are set to have a fundamental impact on the continued existence of public service broadcasting in the Isle of Man.

In the multiplatform digital media era, many experts agree that some aspects of public broadcasting need to be reviewed and refined. But this does not include independence, an internationally accepted core value of public media.

It was therefore alarming to read the Select Committee’s conclusion that, although in principle, a public service broadcaster should be operationally independent of Government, the arm’s length approach of the treasury as shareholder of Radio Manx Limited has not worked. A wide disconnect has arisen between the strategic approach of the directors and that of the shareholder. We do not believe it is in the public interest for this to continue.” No, independence has to be demonstrated in practice as well as principle.

Independence has to be demonstrated in practice as well as principle.

And the recommendations don’t just undermine Manx Radio’s independence, they also propose that, “the definition of “public service broadcasting” in primary legislation should be redrafted to distinguish between mandatory and discretionary components. The mandatory components should be limited to impartial news and other distinctly Manx content. The other elements of the existing definition, such as entertainment which responds to the tastes, interests and concerns of the community, should be discretionary components”.

There has been long-term global debate about the definitions of public media, but in no way can it be accepted that some elements of the definition can be mandatory while others are discretionary. Entertainment is central to public media.

Another clear and accepted definer of public media is public involvement and engagement. It’s once again surprising that in this ancient nation, the Tynwald has not consulted the public who pay for the public broadcaster.

The PMA will be writing to those involved to express concern that the government of a democratic country can take upon itself, without recourse to the public or public media experts, to redefine what public media is. In recent years it has been argued that it is governments in developing regions that fail to understand public media. Here is clear evidence that PMA has much work to do close to home in raising public and political understanding of PSM.

Manx Radio is a longstanding member of the Public Media Alliance.

Header Image: Manx Radio studio. Credit: Manx Radio