Click the pic to read social media reportage as a small plane flew into the history books
Three minutes into Dieter Deswarte’s BBC film about St Helena, viewers around the world heard the smooth welcome of Tony Leo, veteran island broadcaster.
“This is Saint FM Community Radio. The people’s station at its best,” he said. “Our unique little island will soon be a part of the bigger world…”
He wasn’t there just to help the script along. The young film-maker places great significance on the radio station that was revived by its listeners, against resistance from officials who were funding a slicker, better-behaved rival.
Saint FM is helping islanders break away from a restrictive colonial past, as Dieter sees it.
“I spent a lot of time there,” he says. “I liked the way it wasn’t perfect but it was done with a lot of enthusiasm, for the island.
“And a lot of people are involved. They have a lot of volunteers. They struggle a lot financially, but it’s good that this came out of the people. It’s a great example of initiative and people getting on and trying to do something.
“I spoke to a lot of people and the independent media has done a lot for people in helping them to voice their opinion. Because I think until it came around it was really, really difficult.
“It’s incredibly important. There is this colonial legacy and this past is still being processed, not only by the government but also by the people.
“It’s very important to have this idea that people don’t feel suppressed. That is something that is constantly causing frustration and conflict on the island.
“It can be made better by better communications between the people and its government. Also feeling they have a voice within the community.
“I think Saint FM and the Independent… the mere fact that it’s independent media, I think that’s something that the people really needed.”
“I think Saint FM and the Independent… the mere fact that it’s independent media, I think that’s something that the people really needed.” SEE ALSO: It gives me great pleasure: Julie declares Saint FM open New radio group bids to revive Saint FM
When Elsa Green returned to St Helena after 62 years of living abroad, she might have expected a fairly quiet homecoming – but for a highly unlikely encounter on the airwaves.
A local paper in England, the Newbury Weekly News, tells of the chain of events that led to her arrival in Jamestown being greeted with full media coverage on Saint FM Community Radio.
Mrs Green’s son-in-law, Adrian Martin, is the paper’s managing director. He mentioned to his chairman, Jeremy Willis, that she was returning to the island. Mr Willis is an amateur radio enthusiast; he was on the air the next day, and by chance, in “rather unusual weather conditions”, he picked up a contact from St Helena.
Island radio operator Bruce Salt told him Mrs Green was arriving on the island that very day – and alerted producers at Saint FM Community Radio, who followed up the story.
Read the full saga in the Newbury Weekly News: http://goo.gl/PD4oY9
(With thanks to Guy Gatien in California for drawing attention to the story)
A vote to end “unfair” media funding on St Helena has been pushed though Legislative Council.
But it was not made clear whether this would put money into the coffers of Saint FM Community Radio – or if so, how soon.
Nor did the motion say whether the government should stop financing St Helena Media Services (SAMS), which has received more than a quarter of a million pounds since being set up by the government in competition with independent media.
Some councillors voted against the motion, that “this Council calls upon the government to take immediate steps to create a level playing field, both financially and otherwise, for all local media organisations.”
There were concerns that money spent establishing SAMS would be wasted if it was unable to continue operating for long enough to become viable as a business.
Councillor Ian Rummery said: “It is reasonable that all media are treated the same.
“How that is done is a matter for our budgeting system to work out. That might mean some lose money and others will gain money to bring them into balance.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be done like that. Maybe clever management of fees for advertising could be used to help bring this about.
“I could not support the ongoing system where there does appear to be a wide disparity of treatment of the two groups of media we have on this island.”
The motion was introduced by Brian Isaac, a strong support of Saint FM Community Radio, which was revived by its own listeners in early 2013.
The station had abruptly closed down at Christmas 2012, shortly before SAMS Radio 1 went live.
The debate faltered when it became clear that some councillors who wanted to support Saint FM warned that they felt obliged to vote against the motion because of the way it was worded.
Mr Isaac then put forward a new motion, simply calling for funding for Saint FM, and the debate was adjourned overnight.
But on Tuesday (15 October) the original motion was reinstated.
Although the vote was split, the Speaker, Eric Benjamin, declared: “The Ayes have it. The Ayes have it” – meaning the motion had succeeded.
Ironically, the debate was part of the first formal Legislative Council session to be broadcast on the internet – thanks to SAMS Radio 1.
A note from Simon Pipe, editor of St Helena Online: Reporting of this story has been delayed for personal reasons. This blog began as a degree project and continued while I began building up paid work as a very part-time university teacher. On Tuesday, as this debate was taking place, I was preparing for a successful job interview at Coventry University. I will shortly be taking up a humble but full-time role in the journalism department, which will enable me to qualify to teach in higher education. I hope to be able to continue running the website in a low-key way, possibly with the help of students; however, my St Helena activities will clearly have to be scaled down from now on. It’s been fun, and I thank the St Helena Independent and many individuals who have given great support, including staff in the government press office.
A debate on St Helena’s media could affect the future of the government-funded SAMS Radio 1 – and possibly boost the fortunes of “the people’s radio station”, Saint FM.
SAMS Radio 1 and its sister newspaper, the Sentinel, have received at least £240,000 of taxpayers’ money since the paper launched in March 2012. Meanwhile, the relaunched Saint FM Community Radio has struggled to get by on donations and fund-raising events.
Now that imbalance is to be addressed in a debate by the island’s Legislative Council on Monday, 14 October 2013 – the first opportunity to confront the issue since the July general election.
Its sponsor, Brian Isaac, has called for creation of a “level playing field”.
No unfairness was intended when the idea of a new media organisation was first floated. It was formally set up by Attorney General Ken Baddon.
The plan, devised by consultant John Styles, was for it to replace the independent media as well as the government-funded St Helena Herald and Radio St Helena.
But discussions with Mike Olsson, then owner of both the St Helena Independent and Saint FM, broke down. He closed the paper but later relaunched it with outside support; and then closed the radio station at Christmas 2012.
The ethics of funding SAMS in competition with a private sector rival became further complicated when Saint FM was revived by its own listeners as a community enterprise.
Councillors applied pressure behind the scenes for the new Saint FM Community Radio to be given a broadcasting licence, despite previously voting to set up the rival South Atlantic Media Services (SAMS).
When SAMS was launched, initially as the St Helena Broadcasting Corporation, there was a promise that it too would be “community owned”.
But there has been little public evidence that it has been run in that spirit, and minimal transparency about its operations.
It is understood there is no intention to launch a third radio station that was promised in return for state funding, alongside SAMS Radio 1 and another channel that relays the BBC World Service.
Chief executive Darrin Henry has set out to demonstrate the organisation’s editorial independence, and St Helena Online has praised it for its achievements.
But there have also been serious errors of judgment – most recently when it failed to report the decision to move forward on building a permanent wharf in Rupert’s Bay, apparently in a fit of editorial pique.
Instead, in ran a front-page story about being refused an interview with DFID – and withheld key facts that would have presented a very different picture. The wharf was not even mentioned.
Its own story made it clear that its opening claim was untrue – that visiting officials from the UK’s Department for International Development “will no longer be allowed to be interviewed directly by the media”.
The closing quote clearly said they could go on the radio. On this occasion, an interview had been cancelled because of time pressures.
And the story did not mention that far from being denied the chance to interview officials, SAMS had been invited to a media briefing on the wharf plan – and failed to attend.
That failure meant one of the most important stories of the year was reported only by Saint FM and the St Helena Independent, despite the fact that SAMS had received tens of thousands of pounds to provide a news service for the island. The story was eventually covered by the Sentinel, a week late.
The paper also published a vitriolic attack on councillor Bernice Olsson, the wife of the Independent’s publisher – despite the fact that she was receiving stressful medical treatment at the time.
A few weeks later, she was re-elected to serve a record fifth term on the Legislative Council.
The Sentinel has also failed to cover significant community events, such as a high-profile fund-raising climb up Jacob’s Ladder by supporters of New Horizons – even though it saw a new record being set for the challenge.
At one point, it was observed on Facebook that without the island’s independent media there would be no coverage of New Horizons, a key civil society organisation on St Helena.
Despite its public funding, the Sentinel has also failed to send reporters to cover meetings of the island’s Executive Council since they were opened up to the public – abdicating the media’s role as a public watchdog.
Instead, it has relied on reports from councillors, who would not be expected to reveal details of any dissenting arguments in the council chamber.
The motion before Legislative Council does not call for funding of SAMS to be stopped, and nor does it say that Saint FM or the St Helena Independent should be funded – either directly or through advertising.
It says simply: “That this council calls upon the government to take immediate steps to create a level playing field, both financially and otherwise, for all local media organisations.”
It is understood that advice is being sought about funding models for media elsewhere – and the ethical issues involved.
In a separate initiative by a private individual, all 12 members of Legislative Council have been sent a letter calling on them not to fund any media organisations.
Editorial note: SAMS has not been approached to respond to the points in this article, even though this is accepted good practice. This is because the article has been written only shortly before the deadline for re-publication in the St Helena Independent. However, SAMS has consistently failed to respond to emails from St Helena Online, despite the obligations that would normal hold for a publicly-funded body. SAMS is welcome to respond publicly or in confidence.
From Saint FM Community Radio:
We are pleased to announce that we are now streaming our services to Ascension Island as of today (1 October 2013). A special message to the Ascension community was delivered today at 1200 GMT from Saint FM CR. We are actively looking to improve the service we deliver: please do not hesitate to contact us support (at) saint . fm if you have any queries. We are also looking for feedback from the Ascension community audience on the reinstated service.
Saint FM broadcasts on Ascension and Tristan da Cunha ceased when the station abruptly closed, a few days before Christmas 2012. The station was re-launched as a community enterprise by a rescue group formed by private individuals, but various technical challenges have had to be overcome to re-instate the service on Ascension and across St Helena.
Click here to follow the story of a station that was revived by its own listeners.
Saint FM Community Radio can be heard live on Ascension from 1 October 2013, a message to St Helena Online has confirmed.
It comes six months after the station was revived as a community enterprise on St Helena, following its abrupt closure at Christmas 2012 in the face of new competition from a government-funded company.
Councillors on St Helena have been urged to reconsider the level of funding for South Atlantic Media Services, which publishes The Sentinel newspaper but has so far launched only two of three promised radio stations for the island.
With the re-launch of Saint FM, the justification for launching another station has been questioned privately by island politicians and media-watchers.
Just over half of registered electors have voted in the 2013 St Helena general election.
The turnout of 54.8% is a slight drop on the figure of 58% for the 2009 election.
In all, 1,267 valid voting slips were dropped into ballot boxes, from an electorate of 2,309 people. Four ballot papers were declared invalid because they had been spoiled or filled in incorrectly.
Just over a thousand people failed to engage in the political process, despite efforts to emphasise the importance of electing a strong legislative council at a time of major change on the island.
Even so, Paul McGinnety, an expat official working for St Helena Government, reported an optimistic mood. He wrote:
“The atmosphere is really good/excitement and it looks like a good representative demographic have voted.”
This year’s count is thought to be the first not to be held in The Castle in Jamestown.
Counting was slow to get under way, partly because it took about 90 minutes for the ballot box from Blue Hill to reach the count at Prince Andrew School.
The count began at 10.28 UK time, with every single vote read out to the candidates and supporters and broadcast live on both the island radio stations.
With up to 12 votes on each ballot paper, it was predicted that it could take eight hours before the final result could be declared.
A technical problem means that it will not be possible to provide frequent coverage throughout the night.
Editor Simon Pipe has been unable to upload stories to the site. Johnny Clingham of Saint FM Community Radio has been able to publish this story and hopes to upload the final result at breakfast time.
In the meantime, Simon will aim to publish updates on the Twitter website, using the hashtag #StHelena. To see his tweets, follow @sthelenamonitor.
St Helena Online salutes the achievements of the indefatigable Tony Leo, St Helena’s own Mr Radio.
After 45 years on air, Tony decided he might as well move into the studio on a long-term basis. At 7am on Saturday, 6 July 2013, he began a marathon broadcasting session in aid of the relaunched Saint FM Community Radio.
It was classic Saint broadcasting; the hours rolled by but the chat was as perky as ever.
Readers who haven’t signed up to hear the paid-for internet streaming are encouraged to pay tribute to Tony’s efforts by doing so – or at least, to join St Helena Online in making a small (or large) donation.
Tony suggests a pound an hour…
Saint FM does not benefit from the tens of thousands of pounds paid by the British taxpayer to sustain the rival – and often very good – SAMS Radio 1.
Saint FM exists because people on the island were determined to get it back on air after it closed just before Christmas Day 2012.
It is possibly the best and biggest example of Saints acting together to give the people what they wanted, and not what the government decided they should have (the government, we should acknowledge, did grant a broadcasting licence).
It is, quite simply, the people’s radio station. For that reason, and for many others, it deserves support.
SIGN UP or DONATE via the Saint FM website.