Saint Helena Government today publishes the papers which were considered by the Executive Council when recommending action on the Media Review. At the same time the Service Level Agreements (SLA) with South Atlantic Media Services (SAMS) and SAMS’ Articles of Association are also published.
There has been some information released into the public domain which appears to be incorrect. The timeline of events is set out here to avoid any doubt about the handling of this matter with SAMS.
Information which relates to the commercial activities of the organisations named needed to be withheld to protect the confidentiality of those organisations. The Economic Development Committee is grateful to SAMS, Saint FM and the Independent for sharing with them sensitive information. This information was considered on the basis that it belonged to the originator and that SHG would not assume any right to share it publicly. SAMS, Saint FM and the Independent have been consulted about release of the media review papers.
In response to a Motion which was unanimously passed in Legislative Council, the Economic Development Committee (EDC) decided to establish a subcommittee to consider the motion and to seek to implement its principles. The main aims of the Terms of Reference of the Media Review subcommittee were:
To review the current provision of media services on Saint Helena, assess the market, viability and long term sustainability of the current offering.
Previously a Media Working Group was established and reported to council in 2011. This working group led to the establishment of SAMS, who have been operating for over two years and a review would now be timely.
As part of the review, three media services are identified to be included. These are SAMS, Saint FM (Community Radio) and The Independent newspaper. It is these organisations which, with their co-operation, will be factored into the review. The review, where possible, will assess the inputs into organisations, staffing levels and the outputs that they produce.
The sub-committee is a ‘task and finish’ sub group. It therefore has been formed with just one task, which is to review the current sustainability of the local media on Saint Helena. Once it has completed this task, it will finish and be disbanded.
Work started in late 2015 and the Subcommittee released their terms of reference and invited the known media organisations to give evidence. The invitation was opened to members of the public.
After considering the evidence, both oral and written, the subcommittee made recommendations to the EDC. The recommendations were accepted and presented to Executive Council. It was agreed that Service Level Agreements should be established for all organisations receiving public money.
The discussions with the main media organisations – SAMS, Saint FM, and the Independent – commenced soon thereafter, including SAMS in early 2017. While there was acceptance of the findings and proposals by Saint FM and the Independent, SAMS were not in agreement with the proposals. The SAMS Board objected to the proposals in a letter dated 25 January 2017, some two months before the announcement that SAMS would close. It is clear that the proposals in the media review, which did not change in terms of the amount of funding that would be available, was known to the SAMS CEO and the Board in early 2017. It is therefore not accurate to report that the SAMS Board had only a matter of weeks to take action. It was made clear to SAMS that there would be no room for negotiation on the size of subsidy.
The SAMS Board took the decision to announce the closure of SAMS without seeking further discussions with SHG.
It is clear from the Articles of Association of SAMS (which was signed by the Chair of the Board only in November 2016, almost a year after the media review was announced) and the Company Register that SHG is the only Member organisation. SHG therefore took the opportunity to meet with the Board to find a way to further discuss the ongoing operation of SAMS. It was made clear that there would be no additional money forthcoming than that offered in the original SLA but that some of the requirements of the SLA such as number of print copies to be sold or amount of journalistic content required in each edition could be discussed. SAMS were asked to submit a proposal.
The CEO of SAMS came back with proposals which sought significant increases in the proposed funding levels, together with an extension of the duration of that funding, despite the clear indication that there would be no more funds provided and that the time period over which these reduced funds would be provided was limited to 3 years.
In a further meeting between the SAMS Board and SHG officials an agreement was reached as set out in the SLA’s. It should be noted that there has been no increase in the levels of funding or timescale originally proposed. Instead, changes were made to the outputs required as part of the SLA from print and radio media. For the printed press, the 32 page length of which 50% was written content was revised to a requirement of a minimum of 14 pages of written content of which at least 60% had to be words (as opposed to photographs). Furthermore the requirement to distribute 735 copies was dropped, as it was hoped that more written content would naturally lead to more copies sold, and it was recognised that online readership is increasing. For the radio, a phased approach to the live broadcast requirement was agreed but required submission of a proposal as to how to get there. The stipulation to avoid cross subsidy between print and radio was removed as it was recognised that stories are often written for both media and that it would not be practical to police this requirement.
In the interim, Saint FM and the Independent newspaper had reached agreement with a private funder and decided not to pursue any further negotiations emanating from the media review.
In light of the agreement, the Board of SAMS decided to reverse its decision to close and that SAMS would continue to operate beyond 31 March 2017 in line with the new SLA.
Below are the Service Level Agreements with SAMS, SAMS’ Articles of Association and a Redacted Media Review Report.
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5 April 2017