Saint FM listeners urged to protest over ‘misuse’ of UK aid

UK listeners to Saint FM have been urged to protest to their members of Parliament over the station being “driven out of business” with British tax-payers’ money.

St Helena’s first and only fully-independent radio station announced on Wednesday, 19 December 2012, that it would close permanently within 48 hours.

Owner Mike Olsson said it could not compete with the “community owned” St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation (SHBC) to replace the government-owned Radio St Helena – due to close on Christmas Day 2012.

Governor Mark Capes has been quoted in The Sentinel – also published by the SHBC – stating that the new media organisation was set up by councillors.

Robert Thomson, a reader of St Helena Online with professional experience of community relations, has reacted to the closure announcement in a message calling for political protest in the UK.

He writes:

“I have been listening to Saint FM nearly every day for most of a year now. The station has provided me with not only entertainment, but an insight into life on St Helena.

“I am bitterly disappointed for Mike and his team, who have been driven out of business by state sponsored “competition”. Put in place by people who obviously can’t handle criticism.

“Well, they might be in for a bit more if all us UK residents start collectively writing to our MPs about the misuse of UK funding provided to the SHG. This sort of thing would not be even contemplated here, so I fail to see why it should be acceptable in St Helena.

“Here’s hoping that Saint FM can rise again from the ashes like the Phoenix.”

He closed The St Helena Independent in March 2012 when the government-funded Sentinel was launched and allowed to compete for advertising. The paper was revived a month later with support from island businesses and St Helena Online.

But Mike Olsson has told this website that the closure of Saint FM would be permanent: the station would automatically lose its licence once it went off air, he said.

The use of money from the UK’s Department For International Development has also been condemned in a message to an email newsgroup for people interested in life on Tristan da Cunha.

Saint FM has been relayed to listeners on St Helena’s sister island since 2008.

The writer says:

“In my opinion, the use of DFID funding, which comes from hard-pressed British taxpayers, to start and subsidise an unnecessary and competing government newspaper and radio station, is a wasteful violation of Britain’s long tradition of freedom of expression.”

St Helena Government is being asked to respond to the closure announcement and criticism.

In March 2012 it issued a statement in response to UK media interest in the closure of the Independent, saying it was “nonesense” that it wanted to see the paper shut down.

It said:

“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.”

St Helena Online understands that Mike Olsson rejected an offer for the SHBC to buy him out, and was warned at the time that the new media organisation would be likely to put him out of business.

Read the St Helena Government statement on the Independent here.

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