A candle burned in the crowded studio of Saint FM as the last song played out on St Helena’s best-loved radio station.
A few minutes earlier, station founder Mike Olsson told listeners around the world: “I think we changed the island. We have been able to bring more openness and more information to the people.”
He chose to end eight years on air with the old Seekers hit, The Carnival Is Over. When it faded, he switched off the transmitter and the flame was blown out.
For those present, it symbolised “the end of independent radio on St Helena and the plunging of the island into darkness”.
With three new stations due to launch some time in January 2013, albeit with start-up funding from St Helena Government, not everyone on St Helena would agree with the sentiment.
Officials in the Castle are now attempting to make sure the island’s airwaves do not fall completely silent when its only other existing broadcaster, Radio St Helena, closes down at the end of Christmas Day, after exactly 45 years on air.
St Helena Online had been told that the new stations might not go live until late January. The St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation is understood to have had to overcome substantial difficulties to launch them.
However, a government spokesman has now said it was hoped the launch would be “a bit sooner” in January.
He said it was too early to give definitive information, but officials were “working to bridge any radio gap between midnight on 25 December, and SHBC’s start-up.”
Radio St Helena station manager Ralph Peters has told St Helena Online that he may be able rescue a programme of messages from UK Saints, recorded by Johnny Clingham for Saint FM to play on Christmas Day.
Ralph has said he could broadcast the programme on Christmas afternoon if Johnny can get it to him via the internet.
UK listeners to Saint FM have been urged to protest to their members of Parliament over the station being “driven out of business” with British tax-payers’ money.
St Helena’s first and only fully-independent radio station announced on Wednesday, 19 December 2012, that it would close permanently within 48 hours.
Owner Mike Olsson said it could not compete with the “community owned” St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation (SHBC) to replace the government-owned Radio St Helena – due to close on Christmas Day 2012.
Governor Mark Capes has been quoted in The Sentinel – also published by the SHBC – stating that the new media organisation was set up by councillors.
Robert Thomson, a reader of St Helena Online with professional experience of community relations, has reacted to the closure announcement in a message calling for political protest in the UK.
“I have been listening to Saint FM nearly every day for most of a year now. The station has provided me with not only entertainment, but an insight into life on St Helena.
“I am bitterly disappointed for Mike and his team, who have been driven out of business by state sponsored “competition”. Put in place by people who obviously can’t handle criticism.
“Well, they might be in for a bit more if all us UK residents start collectively writing to our MPs about the misuse of UK funding provided to the SHG. This sort of thing would not be even contemplated here, so I fail to see why it should be acceptable in St Helena.
“Here’s hoping that Saint FM can rise again from the ashes like the Phoenix.”
He closed The St Helena Independent in March 2012 when the government-funded Sentinel was launched and allowed to compete for advertising. The paper was revived a month later with support from island businesses and St Helena Online.
But Mike Olsson has told this website that the closure of Saint FM would be permanent: the station would automatically lose its licence once it went off air, he said.
The use of money from the UK’s Department For International Development has also been condemned in a message to an email newsgroup for people interested in life on Tristan da Cunha.
Saint FM has been relayed to listeners on St Helena’s sister island since 2008.
The writer says:
“In my opinion, the use of DFID funding, which comes from hard-pressed British taxpayers, to start and subsidise an unnecessary and competing government newspaper and radio station, is a wasteful violation of Britain’s long tradition of freedom of expression.”
St Helena Government is being asked to respond to the closure announcement and criticism.
In March 2012 it issued a statement in response to UK media interest in the closure of the Independent, saying it was “nonesense” that it wanted to see the paper shut down.
“Since St Helena Media Productions (SHMP) announced the closure of its Independent newspaper, much comment has been circulated, much of it exaggerated and distorted. The St Helena Government (SHG) wishes to clarify its position and set the record straight. Firstly, we recognise the Independent’s achievements, its contribution to stimulating debate and comment on St Helena, and to informing the public.
“When SHG proposed setting up a new, community-owned media service, this was approved by the Elected Representatives of the people of St Helena, in both Legislative and Executive Councils. Councillors fully endorsed SHG’s intention to set up a sustainable and modern community-owned service, run by talented Saints, to engage all audiences, including the younger sector, at a time of change and challenges. That plan did not include any intention to see the Independent newspaper close down and it is nonsense to suggest this.”
St Helena Online understands that Mike Olsson rejected an offer for the SHBC to buy him out, and was warned at the time that the new media organisation would be likely to put him out of business.
Read the St Helena Government statement on the Independent here.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
A Facebook campaign has been launched to press for the relaunch of the St Helena Independent, despite new competition from the government-funded Sentinel.
Owner Mike Olsson announced that the 30 March 2012 issue would be the last. He said the paper would not be viable because St Helena Government (SHG) was to transfer its advertising and other financial support to the new title.
He said: “The purpose of the campaign is to give people a way to show support for restarting The Independent.
“Making The Independent viable with the withdrawal of government advertising would be a challenge but not necessarily impossible. If people show their support I hope it will encourage Mike to look for a way.”
The closure was debated at a specially-convened meeting of the Chamber of Commerce’s council, Wednesday 4 April 2012.
Hazel Wilmot, owner of The Consulate Hotel in Jamestown, has called for the president and vice president of the chamber to resign over their role in launching a government-subsidised title in competition with a private business.
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.”