St Helena Government has issued the following statement to explain its support for the publishers of The Sentinel, St Helena’s new newspaper – which has been blamed for the closure of the St Helena Independent.
Since St Helena Media Productions (SHMP) announced the closure of its Independent newspaper, much comment has been circulated, much of it exaggerated and distorted. The St Helena Government (SHG) wishes to clarify its position and set the record straight. Firstly, we recognise the Independent’s achievements, its contribution to stimulating debate and comment on St Helena, and to informing the public.
When SHG proposed setting up a new, community-owned media service, this was approved by the Elected Representatives of the people of St Helena, in both Legislative and Executive Councils. Councillors fully endorsed SHG’s intention to set up a sustainable and modern community-owned service, run by talented Saints, to engage all audiences, including the younger sector, at a time of change and challenges. That plan did not include any intention to see the Independent newspaper close down and it is nonsense to suggest this. The Saint Helena Government strongly supports the private sector – for example through the investor-friendly tax reforms in this year’s Budget, covering investment tax credits, accelerated depreciation, capital gains relief and advantageous carry forward rules – designed to make it more profitable for all businesses, both local and offshore, to invest in St Helena.
The move to establish the new media organisation – St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation Ltd (SHBC) – was also driven by financial reasons, with SHG having to find a way to rationalise its funding of media services.
This meant that SHG could not continue to pay SHMP (the Independent and Saint FM) a very substantial sum each month (see Notes for Editors for details) to air certain material, under the terms of an arrangement made in 2009. In summary, over the past 30 months, SHG supported SHMP with an average payment of £1,690 each month. This monthly figure is in addition to the numerous payments to SHMP, totalling many thousands of pounds, for advertisements over the same period.
Similarly, nor could SHG continue with its current level of subsidy to St Helena News Media Services (SHNMS – the former St Helena Herald newspaper and Radio St Helena). While recognising that this level of financial exposure could not continue indefinitely, SHG considered that it had a responsibility to ensure that Saints were served by a high quality and independent media, with less Government subsidy. To that end, the new media organisation, SHBC, is expected to generate sufficient revenue to become self-financing in the short to medium term.
Unlike the existing Saint Helena News Media Service (SHNMS), whose Board is appointed by the Governor, the new organisation appoints its own Board and is community-owned and managed. This is in keeping with SHG’s strategic priorities to strengthen communities and family life on St Helena.
On 29 March 2012, SHBC published the first edition of its new weekly newspaper, The Sentinel; its modern, comprehensive website (http://www.shbc.sh) is also operational. Once its three new FM radio services are in place (July/August), Radio St Helena will close.
The editorially-independent and sustainable media service provided by SHBC is especially important for St Helena at this time of social and economic transformation. SHBC’s five new and vibrant services will deliver news and community information to Saints living in St Helena and overseas. To people everywhere with an interest in St Helena it offers a new window on news and developments on the Island.
The total amount of financial support paid by SHG to SHMP (the Independent newspaper and Saint FM) under an arrangement put in place in 2009, is £50,700, an average of £1,690 each month. The average monthly figure is drawn from the following amounts paid to SHMP under the 2009 agreement:
- 1 Oct 2009 – 31 Dec 2009 £5,100
- 1 Jan 2010 – 31 March 2010 £1,700 each month
- 1 April 2010 – 31 Dec 2010 £2,000 each month
- 1 Jan 2011 – 31 March 2011 £1,500 each month
- 1 April 2011 – 31 March 2012 £1,500 each month
This does not include the many thousands of pounds SHG has paid to the Independent and Saint FM for advertisements and public notices over the same period.