Saint FM supporters win funding vote in LegCo

A vote to end “unfair” media funding on St Helena has been pushed though Legislative Council.

But it was not made clear whether this would put money into the coffers of Saint FM Community Radio – or if so, how soon.

Nor did the motion say whether the government should stop financing St Helena Media Services (SAMS), which has received more than a quarter of a million pounds since being set up by the government in competition with independent media.

Some councillors voted against the motion, that “this Council calls upon the government to take immediate steps to create a level playing field, both financially and otherwise, for all local media organisations.”

There were concerns that money spent establishing SAMS would be wasted if it was unable to continue operating for long enough to become viable as a business.

Councillor Ian Rummery said: “It is reasonable that all media are treated the same.

“How that is done is a matter for our budgeting system to work out. That might mean some lose money and others will gain money to bring them into balance.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be done like that. Maybe clever management of fees for advertising could be used to help bring this about.

“I could not support the ongoing system where there does appear to be a wide disparity of treatment of the two groups of media we have on this island.”

The motion was introduced by Brian Isaac, a strong support of Saint FM Community Radio, which was revived by its own listeners in early 2013.

The station had abruptly closed down at Christmas 2012, shortly before SAMS Radio 1 went live.

The debate faltered when it became clear that some councillors who wanted to support Saint FM warned that they felt obliged to vote against the motion because of the way it was worded.

Mr Isaac then put forward a new motion, simply calling for funding for Saint FM, and the debate was adjourned overnight.

But on Tuesday (15 October) the original motion was reinstated.

Although the vote was split, the Speaker, Eric Benjamin, declared: “The Ayes have it. The Ayes have it” – meaning the motion had succeeded.

Ironically, the debate was part of the first formal Legislative Council session to be broadcast on the internet – thanks to SAMS Radio 1.

A note from Simon Pipe, editor of St Helena Online: Reporting of this story has been delayed for personal reasons. This blog began as a degree project and continued while I began building up paid work as a very part-time university teacher. On Tuesday, as this debate was taking place, I was preparing for a successful job interview at Coventry University. I will shortly be taking up a humble but full-time role in the journalism department, which will enable me to qualify to teach in higher education. I hope to be able to continue running the website in a low-key way, possibly with the help of students; however, my St Helena activities will clearly have to be scaled down from now on. It’s been fun, and I thank the St Helena Independent and many individuals who have given great support, including staff in the government press office.

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