Stuart Moors is reported to have been comfortably re-elected as president of the St Helena Chamber of Commerce, with John Styles continuing as vice president.
Brenda Moors and Pat Williams will serve as secretary and treasurer, and nine other members were elected to an expanded chamber committee at the organisation’s annual general meeting on 12 April 2012.
They include Hazel Wilmot, owner of The Consulate Hotel in Jamestown. She was censured a week earlier for publicly calling for Mr Moors and Mr Styles to resign over their involvement in establishing a government-funded media service in competition with the privately-owned St Helena Independent, which has now closed.
The previous committee rejected her complaint.
The new committee members are: Gary Stevens, Ian Gough, Nigel George, Michael Benjamin, Geoffrey Clark, Hazel Wilmot, Chris Bargo, Geoffrey Knipe, and Greg Cairns Wicks.
Hazel Wilmot has been formally rebuked for publicly demanding the resignations of the leaders of the island’s chamber of commerce, over the closure of the St Helena Independent.
A statement from the chamber – sent to this website by Ms Wilmot – says the owner of The Consulate Hotel in Jamestown has been given a “public censure”.
It says she treated the chamber council with contempt by going public without first discussing her concerns with fellow members.
She wrote an open letter about the chamber leaders’ involvement in the launch of the state-funded Sentinel newspaper, which prompted the closure of the privately-owned publication on 30 March 2012.
The government’s involvement in the affair led to a report in a UK national newspaper, The Independent.
Ms Wilmot says the chamber’s ruling council – of which she is a member – has ignored her concerns that the actions of the president and vice president, Stuart Moors and John Styles, have undermined confidence among potential investors in St Helena.
She has also sent this website copies of emails – some with the senders’ details removed – which she says are from would-be investors who have lost confidence in St Helena Government because it funded The Sentinel and allowed it to compete with a privately-owned company for advertising. It also switched its own advertising to the new newspaper, which launched on 29 March 2012.
The chamber council’s statement, issued nearly a week after a special meeting about the affair, says:
“Ms Wilmot expanded on the detail of the items in the list of accusations. The council discussed all of the issues but, as a whole, recognising that the Chamber is a voluntary body, felt unanimously that there was no case to answer.
The council also determined that the way that Ms Wilmot went about the raising of the issues was unacceptable. By not first raising any concern with the president or vice president, or indeed with the council, she has treated her fellow council members with contempt.
“She has publicly besmirched the names of two individuals, brought the chamber itself into disrepute, and openly impugned the integrity of the chamber council members.
“The council resisted more severe actions and were content to deliver a public censure to Ms Wilmot for her ill-advised action.”
In fact, the open letter was specifically aimed at Mr Moors and Mr Styles, and made no references to the integrity of other members of the chamber council.
The letter also said the leaders’ actions had:
sown division among chamber members
brought the St Helena Chamber of Commerce into disrepute, by [permitting] legislation to be formed that endangers the principal of free enterprise on St Helena, whilst in the positions you hold.
Ms Wilmot also accused the president and vice president of failing to tell members about the way in which The Sentinel’s publisher – the St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation – was being set up.
However, it emerged at the censure meeting that members had been informed, but Ms Wilmot was off the island at the time and the discussion was excluded from the minutes.
The agenda for the chamber AGM includes the election of officers, and representation on outside organisations. The chamber is a member of the “community-owned” new media organisation, and Mr Styles and Mr Moors are both directors.
Mr Styles proposed the setting up of the corporation after being asked for his advice by St Helena Government.
SEE ALSO the Media section of this website for a full list of stories and statements
Allegations that St Helena Government brought about the closure of the island’s only privately-run newspaper have been strongly refuted.
In a second statement on the affair, the government says its plans to help set up a state-funded rival “did not include any intention to see the Independent newspaper close down and it is nonsense to suggest this.”
But the threat to the St Helena Independent was foreseen in a book published only three days before the paper’s final edition appeared. It said withdrawing advertising – as the government has now done – would almost certainly kill off the Independent.
The government decided to switch its advertising from the Independent to the state-funded Sentinel, which was published for the first time on 29 March 2012. The Independent put out a farewell issue on March 30.
SHG also decided not to renew a “service” contract with Saint FM, the Independent’s sister radio station – though owner Mike Olsson says this contract did not relate to the newspaper.
In the book, contributor Simon Pipe – editor of this website – referred to a new law that could force the closure of a newspaper.
“In Britain,” it said, “MPs and media commentators have recognised that legal regulation of the Press raises difficult issues. Actually closing down a newspaper would be pretty well unthinkable.
“Not on St Helena. The Media Standards Ordinance 2011 allows the St Helena Government to “terminate production” of any newspaper that is deemed by a Media Commission to have breached editorial codes on harmful, offensive or defamatory content.
“In reality, the power to close down a newspaper is not needed. The government can simply withdraw its advertising, which almost certainly would have the same effect.”
Click here for an extract from Media on Remote Islands book chapter
In an interview on Saint FM, Mike Olsson said that former governor Andrew Gurr had advised him to accept a buy-out offer from the new media organisation “or they are going to run right over you.”
The government’s new statement was issued amid ongoing disquiet over the way in which the new media organisation came into being. It said much of the comment on the issue had been distorted.
It began by praising the Independent’s “contribution to stimulating debate and comment on St Helena.”
It said councillors had approved the setting-up of the new community-owned media service – known as the St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation.
And it said it “could not continue to pay SHMP (the Independent and Saint FM) a very substantial sum each month to air certain material, under the terms of an arrangement made in 2009.”
The government said it had been paying Mr Olsson’s company an average of £1,690 each month, plus “many thousands of pounds” for advertising. It had also been funding the St Helena Herald, which closed in March 2012, and Radio St Helena, which is expected to be replaced by three new stations in the summer.
“This level of financial exposure could not continue indefinitely,” it said, but “SHG considered that it had a responsibility to ensure that Saints were served by a high quality and independent media, with less Government subsidy.”
The new media organisation aims to become self-supporting “in the short to medium term” – depending on how quickly the island’s economy grows, with an airport expected to bring tourism cash from 2015.
Mike Olsson challenged the government version of events in a statement, and in an interview on Saint FM with presenter Vince Thompson – who had also been a columnist on the Independent.
He said the contract with the government was not a subsidy, but involved a payment for services – including broadcasting to Saints overseas, and being able to broadcast emergency announcements within five minutes at any time of day or night.
He also said that the contract did not relate to the Independent, which survived on income from advertising and sales alone.
He also complained that he had not been allowed to see a report by former official John Styles, outlining his ideas for the new rival, “Like we are not stakeholders in the media at all in St Helena.
“The next thing I saw was Mr John Styles in my living room saying, ‘Can we send in
Cable & Wireless to value your equipment?’ He was shown the door quite quickly.”
A third source has said that Mr Olsson refused to consider “generous” offers to buy him out.
Mr Thompson also questioned the validity of claims that the new media service would be financially “sustainable” if it did not have to repay start-up funding – including the cost of refurbishing its new base in the Castle Gardens.
Full details of the financial arrangement between SHBC and the government have not been released.
But Mr Olsson attacked the government for publishing details of its payments to Saint FM. “What would normally be classified as ‘commercial-in-confidence’ has been dragged out in the public domain,” he said in a statement.
He also referred to a 2007 audit report, which he said established the principle that “as a subsidised organisation you cannot go out and compete with the private sector.”
That was the basis on which The Sentinel’s forerunner, the St Helena Herald, was banned from accepting paid advertising – which made it impossible to generate income it needed on top of its government funding.
Simon Pipe contributed a chapter on media on remote islands to an academic book about the state of local journalism. What Do We Mean By Local? Grass-Roots Journalism – Its Death and Rebirth, is published by Abramis, price £17.95. www.abramis.co.uk.
An open letter is calling on Stuart Moors and John Styles to resign as heads of St Helena’s chamber of commerce, because of their role in the closure of the island’s only private-sector newspaper.
Hazel Wilmot says that if they don’t step down as president and vice-president, then all the other members should walk out in protest.
Mr Styles set up the St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation (SHBC), which launched the new Sentinel newspaper yesterday (29 March 2012). He has said he will cease to be a director once it is established. Chamber president Stuart Moors is also a director of the new organisation.
Ms Wilmot, owner of the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown, has told this website she was “appalled” at the way the SHBC was set up with government funding, and allowed to compete for advertising with the Independent – which announced its closure from today as a result.
In a statement to this website, Stuart Moors says: “The president and vice-president are in receipt of the open letter from Ms Wilmot, and we will be discussing the issues she raises within the Chamber Council before deciding how next to proceed.”
The annual general meeting of the chamber takes place on 12 April 2012 – ironically, in the Consulate Hotel.
Mr Styles has pointed out that the SHBC and The Sentinel are owned by a community trust representing organisations across the island – including the chamber of commerce. It’s hoped it will eventually become self-supporting as the island’s economy grows.
The open letter says the chamber leaders acted “in the knowledge that a conflict existed between the function of the chamber to nurture existing businesses, and the establishment of a private company that has precipitated the demise of another existing business.”
It also tells them they have:
sown division among chamber members
brought the St Helena Chamber of Commerce into disrepute, by, without comment or intervention, permitted legislation be formed that endangers the principal of free enterprise on St Helena, whilst in the positions you hold.
And if they do not step down from their chamber roles:
“The alternative is for me to propose that all members of the Chamber of Commerce resign their membership of the Chamber until a satisfactory reply can be provided, by yourselves, on the conduct currently alleged.”
The open letter is published in full in the final issue of the St Helena Independent.
Hazel Wilmot says she is “reassured” by a pledge from the CEO of The Sentinel that it will be robustly free of government influence. “I will reserve judgement,” she says.
The first edition of St Helena’s new newspaper, The Sentinel, has gone online. Read it here(note: the link address has changed since it was first published on this site).
The front page splash is a week-old story about new TV channels, but one that came too late for the previous week’s Independent.
But its own inside-page opinion piece may yet make a hotter story: columnist Les Baldwin suggests there are too many dolphins in James Bay, and says island fishermen should be allowed to go back to catching them, in very limited numbers. Watch this website.
The St Helena Independent has also published its final edition, here. Or has it? There are calls in the letters page for editor Mike Olsson to find a way to revive the paper.
The paper also publishes an open letter calling for John Styles and Stuart Moors to resign from their senior roles on the Chamber of Commerce, because of their involvement in setting up the new government-funded media organisation in competition with a private-sector newspaper.
This website will run a story on the resignation call shortly. There are perspectives on the story that cannot be shared – at this stage – because they have been given in confidence.
In his farewell editorial, Mike Olsson recalls how the paper began as an internet-only publication in 2005. He says he has been overwhelmed by the messages of support he has received. Read comments to this website here – more views are welcome.
In a letter, Gregory Cairns-Wicks writes:
“What a sad day it is, being the last day that we the public of St Helena will have the opportunity to write letters and freely express opinions in a publication truly free of Government control. I wonder how many people out there can remember the days before the Indy started up?
“Back then letters to the Government run paper were routinely refused publication if they touched on sensitive subjects or openly criticised SHG.
“I am in no doubt that without the launch of the Indy we would still be today denied truly free speech. Mike’s publication has annoyed all of us at one time or another, but personally I have always felt that the benefits of an independent newspaper have continually and greatly outweighed any negatives.”
The announcement that the St Helena Independent is to close on Friday, citing government-funded competition – has prompted strong reactions. Read comments here.
So far, however – because of personal pressures – this website has not carried any response from the organisation behind the government-subsidised St Helena Sentinel, which launches on the same day.
However, the St Helena Herald carried an interview with founder John Styles shortly before that paper closed down on 9 March 2012. It’s on page 22, on this link.
In the article, Mr Styles is asked whether the newspaper will be “run by government”. He replies:
Most definitely not. Some commentators have suggested this, citing the fact that a government subsidy will be required (although it is hoped to reduce this over time).
However it is wrong and misleading to suggest that this will result in government control. The new media organisation is owned by the independent voluntary sector. It has a board made up of senior representatives of the voluntary sector and a CEO who is a member of the board. It is totally independent of government.
Our mission is “to enrich people’s lives with media services that inform, entertain and educate”.
And our core values are, “on behalf of the community, to cherish and preserve the media’s independence from the state, its impartiality and professionalism, and its honesty and integrity.”