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Legal Bill heralds the end of The Herald

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The final issue of the St Helena Herald is to be published this Friday (9 March 2012), even though island councillors have yet to change the law to allow it to happen.

The state-funded paper is to be replaced by a new publication, run by the fledgling St Helena Broadcasting Corporation.

The St Helena Media Board, which publishes the Herald, will continue to operate Radio St Helena until the SHBC is ready to launch three new FM radio channels on the island.

The Governor, Mark Capes, said: ‘Under St Helena law, the media board has a duty as long as it exists to publish a newspaper. As we need to keep the SHMB active until the new FM radio services starts transmitting in June/July, we must adjust the law to allow it to do so without being compelled to produce the Herald when the new newspaper is published.

Executive councillors were asked only last week to allow the St Helena News Media (Amendment) Bill to be put before the Legislative Council and be passed into law – with the paper’s closure already imminent.

However, councillors had already agreed to the setting up of the new community-owned media trust and the principle of closing the Herald and Radio St Helena.

One difficulty has been that the launch date for the new paper has been uncertain. Its name has not even been made public.

Staff have been preparing the launch in temporary premises behind The Standard pub. They will be taking over the Audit Office premises in Castle Gardens.

The broadcasting corporation was the idea of John Styles, who declined an invitation to chair the media board but offered to devise a new model for journalism on the island.

Critics has seized on the fact that the new organisation will be funded by government initially, with the hope that it can become financially independent as St Helena’s economy grows once the island’s first airport opens in 2015.

But Mr Styles said: ‘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. It is totally independent of government.’

But the editor of the commercially-run St Helena Independent has launched a highly critical attack on ‘the Government Media Monopoly Company’, as he calls it.

‘We are trying to get some sense out of St Helena Government on the matter,’ wrote Mike Olsson in last week’s paper. ‘Obviously, if this fails, truth behind the government attack against the private sector has to come out.’

He pointed out that the Audit Service had clearly stated that subsidised bodies should not compete on the open market.

‘It is all very confusing really to have a government who says it supports private sector… and the Chamber of Commerce, the “crusaders of the private sector”, joined together to launch an attack on private sector, freedom of press and ultimately democracy.’

The broadcasting corporation says its core values are to cherish and preserve:

  • the media`s independence from the state
  • its impartiality and professionalism and
  • its honesty and integrity

Mr Styles said: ‘Although community-owned companies exist elsewhere in the world, the new media organisation will be the first of its kind in St Helena. To create something completely brand new in every way is difficult and challenging, but along with the challenge comes the personal satisfaction.’

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