St Helena Online

Tag: The Sentinel

Castle’s media funding passes £240,000 – and keeps rising

Nearly a quarter of a million pounds of public money has been spent on setting up The Sentinel newspaper and its sister radio station.

The scale of spending was uncovered by councillor Christine Scipio O’Dean, who asked for the figures at her first formal Legislative Council meeting.

It had been reported that she had been refused access to the figures previously, despite being a councillor.

The £241,000 transferred to the independent South Atlantic Media Services (SAMS) – to date – is almost double the amount previously made public.

Christine told St Helena Online the total was made up of £152,000 of capital expenditure to launch the media operation in March 2011, and £125,000 of recurrent expenditure to cover ongoing costs in the 2012/13 financial year.

The figures were disclosed 11 months after The Sentinel began publication in March 2012.

St Helena Government has said its funding will reduce over the next few years until the organisation is financially self-supporting.

The revival of the St Helena Independent in April 2012, and the granting of a radio licence to the new Saint FM Community Radio company, will make it more difficult for SAMS to become profitable.

In a statement, the government insisted that SAMS was editorially independent. To suggest that it and its newspaper and radio services (and website) are somehow ‘controlled’ by Government is absurd.”

However, the scale of funding demonstrates that financially, the service is by no means independent of the government.

The statement also justified the government’s decision to set up the new media service alongside the Independent and Saint FM.

“Diversity and choice are important principles,” it said. “So too are reliability and sustainability, as recently illustrated by the decision of the proprietor of Saint FM to close down his radio station at just three day’s notice. We must have a reliable service.”

The statement did not acknowledge that Saint FM closed only days before SAMS was due to launch three new radio stations in competition.

In fact, only one station has so far gone live, six weeks after the closure of Radio St Helena on Christmas Day 2012, and with only six hours of hosted programmes on weekdays.

The first weekly evening programmes – a health programme hosted by Gavie Williams, and a Christian music programme presented by Gareth Drabble – were due to go to air yesterday (28 February 2013).

  • Councillor Earl Henry asked the Financial Secretary about monitoring of government funds paid out to civil society and non-government organisations. The response will be reported next week.

Cuts and job-losses throughout government.  Costs of government services rising affecting ordinary (poor) people.  And £241,000 to fund a media service just to “get the government’s message across”.  Words fail me.
– John Turner, St Helena

Sporty goings-on in the governor’s office?

Simon Pipe writes: In the rush of news production, mistakes happen from time to time, and as long as no-one’s reputation has been harmed then it’s best to enjoy a good laugh about it. So I’m happy to encourage people to admire The Sentinel’s picture of what looks like a lively press conference at the end of the UK aid negotiators’ visit. We had no idea there was room for so many young ladies to leap about in Governor Capes’s office.

The picture is on page 9 of the 28 February 2013 issue, here.

St Helena Online congratulates a worthy adversary

Simon Pipe writes: I’d like to congratulate the team behind the launch of the new SAMS Radio 1 on St Helena.

It has always been the stance of St Helena Online that there are legitimate questions to be asked about the manner in which the island’s new media organisation came into being. New questions emerge, and the ongoing conduct of the government deserves investigation.

This website will continue to challenge The Castle, including on the peculiar press release that appeared to announce that the organisation’s change of name was a milestone in public service. Very odd.

But as a former print and BBC journalist, now teaching media skills at two universities, I am well aware of the extremely daunting scale of the challenge that has faced Darrin Henry and his team, both technically and editorially.

The existence of this website cannot have made that challenge any easier. I have no doubt at all that it has been right to support truly independent media on the island, in competition with SAMS.

The Sentinel has produced some important journalism – not least when it demonstrated that some councillors did not have a clear idea of how government should work.

I believe there have been errors of editorial judgment, but I have a few of those to my own name. But none of that takes away from the achievement that The Sentinel and the new radio station represent.

Had they been my achievement, I would feel very, very proud.

Rules laid down for new radio stations – for now

A battle for the airwaves has led St Helena Government to lay down temporary rules on how radio licences should be granted.

It says it would be unfair to make applicants wait for a fully-researched policy to be in place.

Two applications have been received, including one from Saint FM owner Mike Olsson, who wants to set up new stations in competition with the three planned by the St Helena Broadcasting Corporation (SHBC).

Neither will have to pay, because no charges were in place when they applied. That will change in future because radio frequencies are valuable assets, in the same way land and buildings are, says SHG.

No further applications will be considered until a permanent policy is in place.

Councillors had already agreed to fund the SHBC stations – for which no launch date has been given.

But then Mike Olsson made an unexpected move to launch new stations under the banner of St Helena Media Productions, the company that owns Saint FM and the St Helena Independent.

His request for a licence was put on hold at the 12 June 2012 executive council meeting.

If all stations go on air, the island could have six or seven radio stations serving a population that currently stands at just 4,000 people.

This year Saint FM began sharing material with its long-standing rival, Radio St Helena, which is due to be closed when the new SHBC services go on air. In late July 2012, though, Radio St Helena began carrying news bulletins compiled by SHBC.

The interim rules, issued by Gina Benjamin, the clerk of councils, say operators will not be able to keep hold of “spare” frequencies.

Councillors had noted that Saint FM was not using all the frequences it had been given, but Mike said they were in his own name and not suitable for island-wide broadcasting.

The government has not disclosed when it is likely to decide whether all the proposed new stations can go on air.

Bulletins go live – before radio switch-on
Media saga takes new twist as Mike plans more radio stations

Saint FM
St Helena Broadcasting Corporation
Radio St Helena – history

What the nurse said to the governor: Andrew Gurr looks back

When Andrew Gurr arrived on St Helena in 2007 as the first governor to be appointed through open competition, he found an island civil service that was financially adrift. It needed to undergo surgery – and so, later on, did Mr Gurr himself. In the fourth and final extract of an address to the Friends of St Helena, he reflects on changes made in his four years living in the governor’s mansion, and on some of the possibilities for the future – including a boarding school for rich South Africans, and even a space station. 

See also parts one, two and three.

On government accounting

During my time we made some important changes. The accounting system was really pretty awful: good, old-fashioned Victorian accounting. Cash accounting – penny in, penny out. No concept of time in the management of money throughout the whole civil service.

And over the last four years we put in accrual accounting.

[St Helena Online note: cash accounting records transactions only when money actually comes in or goes out. But many deals – including DfID funding – involve payments in the future. Accrual accounting includes these future payments (in and out) to give a better picture of finances. It is complex and costly to set up, but is used by nearly all but the smallest businesses].

The Foreign Office said it was not worth doing, but then, they said that in the Falklands but we did it in the Falklands and it undoubtedly was worth doing. It improves your management of funds and it means people begin to develop an awareness of the value of money over time, which is very very significant if you are going to manage it.

On media

We put in place a plan for re-aligning the media. That’s still going on, isn’t it?

The silly situation was we had two media organisations and the government was funding both, and it really wasn’t necessary.

Okay, we weren’t funding the Independent to the same extent we were funding the Herald, but councillors were getting increasingly restless, as indeed DfID was, about the fact that the two papers were so similar – and the two radio stations were so similar.

So that, I think, has been dealt with.

[St Helena Online note: Mike Olsson, who oversees both the St Helena Independent and Saint FM radio station, insists that the newspaper received no subsidy, though some content was directly funded. The St Helena Herald closed in March and was replaced in the same month by the government-funded Sentinel, which – unlike the Herald – was allowed to compete with the privately-owned Independent for advertising. Since Mr Gurr gave his talk, Mike Olsson has applied to run further radio stations in competition with three being set up by the St Helena Broadcasting Corporation, which publishes The Sentinel].

On advisers’ reports

Reports are difficult, because a consultant can come and make recommendations and then we will say to DfID, “Okay, let’s have the money to put this into practice.” “Oh, we haven’t got the money.”

About half of them, I would say, you cannot take forward because you haven’t got the resources to take forward what the consultant might be recommending, or you have to wait to do it.

And as I said when I talked about consultants, some are excellent, some aren’t. The ones who succeed are normally the ones you work with, so they leave behind people who have inculcated what they are saying and carry it forward. We don’t do enough about that: it’s a kind of, “the report is for DfID, not for St Helena” type of attitude.

It’s not a perfect situation, by any means.

On new economic opportunities

There are some very good ideas that have been around.

One, I think, is education: boarding schools for South African kids. A lot of people would like an English education for their children – people who live in South Africa. It would bring in staff, it would bring in activies, and that would be very good.

[There could be] all sorts of academic things – a marine laboratory, like what the Norwegians did with Spitzbergen, a coal mining island in the Arctic. It has become such a centre of excellence that it pays for itself.

On everyone knowing everyone… and what the nurse said to Mr Gurr

There are many things that St Helena is a good research environment for.

Not least is this non-anonymity thing. It astonishes me. People, when my grandfather was alive, if they had been to the next village they would stand in the village hall and tell everbody about it. It would be a big deal. It’s like that in St Helena still.

That lack of anonymity impacts on the police service, on the medical service. The nurse tending your bed when you’re sitting there in pain: you know her and you know her children and you know her way of life, and she knows you.

I went in for a rather nasty exploratory operation and the nurse said to me: “Don’t you worry, I see everything and I see nothing.” [laughter] I thought, that’s nice.

On Ascension as a space centre

An idea I touted round is Ascension as a space centre. If you are going to take off from a runway to get into space, which will happen, you have got to be near the equator because you have a better launch speed and it’s cheaper to get into orbit from the equator. And you have got to be somewhere that’s secure.

It seemed to me [Ascension is] the place where the West has the longest runway in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s near the equator.

On exploiting isolation

St Helena has always paid its way when its isolation and position is worth something to somebody. Unless you major on that isolation as being the thing that is going to deliver, you are copying somewhere else that can do it cheaper. So you are looking for things that have that special characteristic.

On Plantation House

It’s iconic, isn’t it, Plantation?

I was looking at a country house and thought, “I wish I lived in a house like that – and I did! I had so much junk I could fill every room. I would say, “Do I mind living all by myself in a big house?” And I didn’t: it was really quite easy.

Having staff was a new experience for us. It’s not that easy. Suddenly the house isn’t just yours: there are people who think it’s theirs too. It’s their workplace and you have to take that into account every day.

The kitchen was a disgrace in my view – a health risk – and we had it refurbished into a modern kitchen.

On the late Bobby Robertson, councillor and fund-raiser

One of the great privileges of being governor is the entertaining. We had a dinner for Bobby Robertson and Dulcie on their 60th wedding anniversary and do you know, Bobby never said a word against me in council after that. It was one of the shrewdest dinners I ever gave.

On the late Sharon Wainwright
[Sharon was air access co-ordinator for St Helena; she died suddenly while in London, helping press the case for an airport, in August 2011]

She was a wonderful person to work with. I had a weekly chat with her: she was a great communicator and a very good man manager. She ran what she did well, she got things done – a priceless individual, sadly missed.

On the Friends of St Helena

Those people need the support here that you give them. They are very grateful for that. It’s very much in the interest of St Helena that this organisation, the Friends, exists.

On the future

We were trying, in our time, to move the island towards self-sufficiency and maintain the balance of interest. And it is about balance.

The situation is that the airport [contract] is signed, the ship’s capacity is being increased, there’s a sensible political structure, there’s better systems in the civil service. I think the private sector is getting increasingly engaged and people are getting excited about the airport.

Whether the future is bright or not I don’t know. I think it’s better, however you look at it, than the past; it’s better than it would have been but it’s still up to the Saints to grasp the opportunities that are there.

And they are there now, real opportunities, with – how many? – 170 people working on the airport or airport-related things. That will increase over the next few years.

Shelco are going to take a lot of people into that hotel and housing complex, so all that is going to be brighter, without any question.

On being remembered

Part of me says I would love people to say, “Well, he did a good job”, and part of me says, does it matter in the long run? I will just be a name on a wall or a fading photograph.

I enjoyed it. It was a tremendously enriching exerience and very colourful, and I will always have fond memories of it. But how people remember me depends on what people remember, and who’s telling them to remember it.

I loved the place, I love the people, but your time comes, you do your four years and you leave it. You have fond memories and life moves on.

(One or two of Andrew Gurr’s reflections from his talk to the Friends of St Helena in May 2012 have been kept back as stories in their own right, and will appear shortly. A gallery of his photographs may also appear soon).


The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr
Experts, expats and what England expects: a governor’s view, part 2
Civil service versus the can-do culture: a governor’s view

Foreign Secretary ‘wants hands-on help for islands’ – report

Friends of St Helena

Media saga takes new twist as Mike plans more radio stations

Mike Olsson and some of his Saint FM team at Ann's Place restaurant in Jamestown
Mike Olsson (right) with members of the Saint FM team

A move by Mike Olsson to launch new radio stations on St Helena, alongside Saint FM, has caused concern for councillors.

A request from St Helena Media Productions for more slots on the airwaves was put on hold at the 12 June executive council meeting.

Councillors had already voted to fund three stations being set up by the new “community owned” St Helena Broadcasting Corporation.

If all stations go on air, the island could have six or seven radio stations serving a population that currently stands at just 4,000 people.

In another twist, Saint FM has begun working in partnership with its long-standing rival, Radio St Helena, which is due to be closed in the summer to make way for the new SHBC services.

Lettering on fred globe badge "Saint FM, connecting Saints around the world."Saint FM manager Mike Olsson plans services that would mirror those being set up by his government-funded rival.

One would have more speech – similar to Radio St Helena – and the other would be used to re-broadcast an overseas service.

The SHBC has already launched a newspaper, The Sentinel, in competition with Saint FM’s sister publication, the St Helena Independent.

It plans a music station, a speech station and a third channel re-broadcasting the BBC World Service.

Although the SHBC is currently funded from The Castle, the hope is that it will become financially independent once the island’s airport opens in 2015, giving a lift to the island economy.

The request for space on the airwaves was expected to go before executive council in May. Then councillors decided to put it on hold.

Mike Olsson interviews Ashton Yon and Leoni Ellick at Saint FM

Governor Mark Capes’s report of the Exco meeting said: “Noting that FM frequencies were a valuable resource, councillors considered that they would need some expert advice before they could reach a decision.”

Mike Olsson told St Helena Online: “What we want to do is keep Saint FM as it is.

“Maybe we would even shorten down the talk content but use it to promote a second channel with more talk content, more classical music, more specialist music.

“You can’t do those things if you have only one channel.

“The mainstay of it would be longer talk programmes, call-in shows and that kind of content, because Saint FM has to be mainstream, which some people don’t like.

“The third channel, we thought the BBC would not agree to us using them but there are other ones we could use – we could use Sky – to give more international contact.”

Mike Olsson has not declared whether he would, in effect, be giving Radio St Helena a new lease of life beyond August 2012.

The government-funded station has been been broadcasting for nearly 45 years.

Former Radio St Helena manager Tony Leo now broadcasts a weekly programme on Saint FM, and the two stations have begun sharing some material – including a recording of this week’s public meeting on education.

“We and Radio St Helena are working together and this is the way it should have worked in the first place,” said Mike.

Mike Olsson told St Helena Online he had been assured there were no technical reasons not to allocate FM frequencies to St Helena Media Productions, which owns Saint FM and the St Helena Independent.

Councillors also noted that Saint FM already held spare licences, but Mr Olsson said they were in his own name and not suitable for island-wide broadcasting.”Two frequences is not enough to set up a new channel,” he said.

One frequency could not be picked up by Saint drivers with American radio recievers in their cars, he said.

The SHBC had offered to buy out Saint FM, but the offer was rejected.


Contrary to what ExCo was advised, there are plenty of frequencies available if they are used intelligently. London manages to have nearly 40 FM stations – we can certainly manage six!

– John Turner, St Helena
(John has a degree in radio transmission)

The paper that refused to die: St Helena Independent
Sentinel goes live

Saint FM
St Helena Broadcasting Corporation
Radio St Helena – history

The paper that refused to die: St Helena Independent goes LIVE

Headline of the Independent says: We are Back!!!
Click the pic to see the relaunch issue

The St Helena Independent’s relaunch issue is now live on the internet, a month after it “closed down” in the face of competition from the government-funded Sentinel newspaper.

Read it here.

St Helena Online will supply news and features for the revived paper in what may be a unique partnership, while maintaining the site’s editorial independence.

In the spirit of balance and fairness, readers are also encouraged to visit The Sentinel newspaper, here.

The St Helena Independent is back – this Friday
Media funding must be fair, says John
Media section

A statement

Simon Pipe

by Simon Pipe

Readers of this website will know that I was quoted in The Independent newspaper in the UK, saying that St Helenians were wonderful people but they could not run businesses.

I am emphatically not claiming that I was misquoted, but people who know me will know I do not hold that view. I am aware of many successful businesses on St Helena.

I was originally going to be a by-lined reporter on the story, but then suggested it might be easier to tell it if I was quoted instead. When one journalist is briefing another, naturally one does not speak with the same caution as one might use in a formal interview.

I was trying to get across the scale of the economic change the island needs to undergo, based on the draft Sustainable Development Plan. It said the island had “little private sector consumption, capability, capacity or investment.”

I’d like to express my regret, unreservedly.

The remark was clearly offensive, so I asked The Sentinel not to publish it. I made the request via a member of the board of the SHBC, which publishes the paper.

I have now been made aware of the historical reasons why this was misinterpreted as an attempt at censorship, and I have great sympathy for the dilemma in which Darrin Henry, as CEO, found himself.

In the UK, it is perfectly reasonable to ask that something be withheld from a newspaper if there is a good reason. I said that the newspaper quote did not reflect my personal view, and I was concerned that giving it further publicity would embarrass me and cause further offence.

Darrin now accepts that my request was exactly that – a request. I did say that if the story was to run I would like to explain my position (and express my regret). This is standard good practice and it is unfortunate I was not given this opportunity.

Darrin did nothing wrong in re-publishing my quote – even though I wish he hadn’t.

He and his team have taken on a tough job. Journalism is not easy. Although there are legitimate matters of public concern about the way The Sentinel came into being, the paper has done some promising things.

In particular, Sharon Henry’s reporting of council meetings is a very positive step, and very important for island democracy. All media serving St Helena should be working together to make government affairs more open.

I hope readers of this website will judge it for themselves. I aim to make it editorially balanced and neutral on matters of controversy. It is a university project and its future is uncertain – so please enjoy it while you can.

I have given a similar statement to The Sentinel, following amicable negotiations between Darrin Henry and myself. We have agreed the printed statement as a first step; we also agreed to delay discussions about publication of the censorship claim on the internet.

Farewell to the Goats; welcome to St Helena Online

Goat, black and white image
It's no use looking soppy (picture by Windy Mayes)

This website has changed its name. It was called The Island That Was Eaten By Goats because it was originally conceived as a blog, not a news site, and blogs are meant to have unconventional names. St Helena’s greenery was ravaged by goats over several centuries, so it seemed pertinent.

The address is thegatesofchaos still, because that’s harder to change. It, too, seemed like a good, bloggy URL when the site started. It was intended to say that life in St Helena was not entirely ordinary; nothing more. Possibly people have taken it to mean that the site is about exposing incompetence and dishonesty and hypocrisy, which it isn’t (although it may be doing that in the next few days).

Actually, The Gates of Chaos is the name of a gorge in the Sandy Bay area of St Helena. Few people go there. John Grimshaw, blogging historian, posted a fine picture of the gorge, here.

So please don’t say, “The Gates of Chaos” any more. And definitely don’t say, “The Goats of Chaos”.


St Helena’s new newspaper: challenging all comers? (meaning of The Sentinel’s name)
Naming this blog is no joshing matter

Chamber leaders are re-elected

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.