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.
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.
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.
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).
Friends of St Helena
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.
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)
The structure that collapsed over Jamestown’s much-loved Honeymoon Chair in April 2012 was already in a dangerous condition, according to an investigation.
The weight of the bougainvillea plant over the seat had caused the concrete cladding to crack and let in water, which corroded the steel inside.
It crumpled when workmen tried to prune the tree on 25 April.
A report published on the Saint FM Facebook page says: “When the structure was subjected to relatively small sideways force it had no strength and simply collapsed.”
Had it survived the pruning operation and been inspected, “three of the four pillars would almost certainly been condemned with the likely action being their demolition.”
A stronger support frame has already been constructed and awaits installation.
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 re-launch of the St Helena Independent – in competition with a government-funded rival – has prompted island blogger John Turner to oppose media subsidies.
But in the UK, one Conservative MP has called for tax breaks and financial assistance for local newspapers that cannot survive in the face of competition from the internet.
Louise Mensch says they are vital for local democracy – an argument that applies just as strongly in St Helena.
John writes about the issue on his internet journal, Random Thoughts From Offshore. He says: “Let me plant my flag firmly in the ground. I believe the government of St Helena should not be subsidising any media organisations. It is, in my view, a completely inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.
“If the government seriously believes that media on St Helena needs help to grow… it should offer that cash to all of them, fairly.”
Louise Mensch has organised a debate at Westminster (24 April 2012) after learning that two daily newspapers in her Northamptonshire constituency were becoming weeklies.
She says: “The local press performs a unique function in our democracy, as often only a local paper will hold a council or MP to account. Government has to look at ways of preserving Britain’s most popular print media.
“When we think of so many things that are subsidised that have only limited appeal, surely there is a case for tax advantages for local papers.”
She says the UK government should think about “ways to facilitate local communities and businesses owning their own papers – like the supporters’ trust model for football clubs.”
Perhaps she should read The Saint Times – a newspaper launched by St Helena’s motocross club.
John Turner has been signed up as a columnist for the St Helena Independent, which re-launches on Friday, 27 April 2012.
Random Thoughts From Offshore – John Turner’s island blog
Mensch calls for more tax subsidies for local press – UK Press Gazette
The revived Indy will appear – in print and on the internet – on Friday, 27 April, 2012.
St Helena Government has said it wishes the paper well.
Long-standing columnists Vince Thompson and Julian Cairns-Wicks will be joined by a new writer – John Turner, who also runs an internet blog called Random Thoughts From Offshore.
St Helena Online will also supply material for the paper, in a goodwill partnership that may be unique. While the newspaper will continue its legendary campaigning style, this website will remain a largely impartial provider of news stories and lighter features.
Both operations are committed to helping to make St Helena a more open society.
Publisher Mike Olsson announced the paper’s closure from 30 April 2012, the day after The Sentinel newspaper was launched in Jamestown and allowed to compete for advertising – despite being funded by St Helena Government.
He says questions continue to be asked in London about the involvement of The Castle in media affairs on the island. “We have got Andrew Mitchell involved [Secretary of State for International Development] and we got William Hague involved [Foreign Secretary] and that will not stop.”
Ian Jones, the public affairs expert brought to St Helena from Whitehall, has been given a briefing on the re-launch.
A statement from The Castle says:
The St Helena Government notes the stated intention of the proprietor of Saint Helena Media Productions to re-publish its Independent newspaper, and wishes it well. As we made clear at the time, the St Helena Government had no desire to see the newspaper close and we will watch with interest as the Independent re-enters the market.
Mike says fresh editorial input is vital: “We had to introduce something new into the mix.
“I want to run things in the newspaper so that in the future you can go back 20 years and say, ‘That’s what happened that week.’ We can have features, but we have to pack it with news.”
Mike, who also runs Saint FM radio station, says the relaunch has come about as a result of efforts by people on the island and in the UK – and elsewhere.
Financial backers have been found, though Mike is hoping not to need to draw on their funds. “We have all the facilities, we’ve negotiated a deal for printing, and we’re getting advertising. We have very good support, and I think we can be back as the national newspaper.”
Even before the final edition appeared, Mike and others were working behind the scenes to find a way to revive it, with a new editorial line-up. The paper’s relaunch was announced on Saint FM and the paper’s Facebook page – which is already attracting lots of comments.
Here are some of them:
Anthony Somers This is good news. The Independent needs to scrutinise and criticise where appropiate – it’s a sign of a healthy democracy.
Cindy Yon Good to hear. Its always great to have more than one newspaper. Freedom of speech and all that jazz.
Shannon Longdawg Andrews I knew they couldnt keep it down… good on yer.
Lucinda Corney Great news, well done! Something to look forward to on Fridays again.
COMMENT (to St Helena Online):
The Independent is re-starting because that’s what the people want, which proves there is a value in people expressing their views. And a quick personal thank-you to everyone who supported the Facebook ‘Re-start the Independent’ campaign.
John Turner, St Helena
Random Thoughts From Offshore (blog)