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