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Bermuda Press (Holdings) Ltd continues to defend press freedom

Significant costs: The Bermuda Press Holdings Limited, the parent company of The Royal Gazette, has published its annual earnings (Photograph by David Fox)

The Bermuda Press (Holdings) Limited said it incurred significant legal costs defending freedom of speech and media rights as it continued to restructure operations and reduce expenses to offset the rising costs of raw materials and the significant inflationary pressures, post pandemic.

The parent company of The Royal Gazette, the island’s most significant source for news, has reported a comprehensive net loss of $76,000 for the 2022 financial year ended 30 September 2022, compared with a net profit of $228,000 in 2021.

A major increase in expenses was related to wage costs that increased $892,000 for the year.

The increase was mainly due to the resumption of employee benefits and end of Covid related wage reductions, as well as, inflationary wage adjustments.

The BPHL board and management continue to evaluate and adjust operations to return the company to profitability in fiscal year 2023.

Board chairman Stephen R. Davidson made the point that the company has a long history of protecting freedom of speech and of independent media in Bermuda.

That included fighting for Pati legislation and defending the rights of Bermuda’s media many times in the courts, several times all the way to the Privy Council.

His statement to shareholders continued: “In 2022, significant costs were incurred defending a legal claim to suppress The Royal Gazette reporting elements of Evatt Tamine’s involvement in billionaire Robert Brockman’s alleged tax evasion in the United States.

“Unfortunately, defending the rights of independent media, and freedom of speech, is a costly effort and in 2023 your company will incur further legal costs as it appeals a ruling that suppresses our ability to report on publicly-available information.”

The statement referred to the significant financial pressure on an independent news organisation, in a rapidly changing world.

It notes The Royal Gazette had overhauled its entire publishing infrastructure, with new systems enabling remote working, online customer interaction, digital subscriber management, and the tools to monetise the unique Bermuda content. Many of these roll-outs will become visible to the online readers in 2023.

And looking to the future, Mr Davidson noted: “Independent journalism is expensive – requiring research and analysis – at a time when the local economy is contracting.

“The introduction of a registration and paywall is a priority, to offset declining print advertising revenues, and to adapt our revenue model to serve the younger generation that prefers digital content distribution.

“The shift to a subscription model involves significant change in the way we do business.”

The report outlines how overall BPHL revenue increased three per cent to $19,675,000 compared to $19,095,000 in the prior year, while operating expenses also increased 4.7 per cent to $19,744,000 as compared to $18,840,000 in the prior year.

The company said it generated positive cash flows of $423,000 for the year from its rental income and restructured operations.

Positive cash flows allowed the company to reinstate the quarterly dividend payments of $0.07 per share to shareholders in December 2021.

The market price for BPHL’s shares traded most recently at $8.00, compared with $4.50 a year ago, and in March 2023 the board increased the dividend to $0.10 per share.

The company’s local real estate holdings remain the most profitable segment, with an overall occupancy rate of 97 per cent in 2022, of which more than 54 per cent is occupied by third party tenants.

The board will continue to review the company’s performance with the goal of maintaining quarterly dividend payments to shareholders.

During 2022, some of the key areas of focus were:

The Royal Gazette rebuilding its online presence with new registration and paywall functionality.

• The RG Top Ten campaign celebrating Bermuda’s top ten employers, returned as an in-person event in FY22 for the first time since FY19. The event was very well received and the FY23 event has already exceeded participation expectations.

The Royal Gazette launched the RG Podcast Sound Lounge, offering a new venue to engage with its audience on news and topics that are important to the residents of Bermuda.

The Royal Gazette launched Navigate Bermuda, a stand-alone business section dedicated to local businesses that operate in global markets. This product’s objective is to raise awareness in both category expertise, as well as, diversity and inclusion in key business leadership roles. Navigate achieves this by showcasing local subject leadership in all forms of insurance, reinsurance, finance, banking and international business.

• Bermuda.com continued its transition to meet the needs of the new tourism landscape by relaunching its digital App on the same platform as The Royal Gazette in order to take advantage of the new features of Google Analytics 4.

• Stationery Store Plus completed its first year of operation with notable success, the second location has allowed for expansion of its STEAM and art supply offering.

• Office Solutions successfully launched a self-service portal on its website which allows its clients to place equipment service calls and order supplies online.

• BPHL continued to review and restructure the operations at Bermuda Press to reduce administration costs and implement a strategy for sustained success in the post pandemic environment.

The company said: “The total number of shares owned or influenced by directors and officers of the company at 30 September 2022 amounts to 118,058 shares, up from 114,058 shares at 30 September 2021.

“No rights to subscribe for shares in the company have been granted to, or exercised by any director or officer.

“The company recently bought BPHL shares on the BSX pursuant to listing regulation section IIB (6.14,2.i), believing this use of cashflow served to return value to our shareholders as the company shares were being impacted by the lack of liquidity and were trading below book value.

“BPHL’s Annual General Meeting is scheduled to be held by video conference for 10:30am on Friday, 31 March 2022.”

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Published March 16, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated March 16, 2023 at 7:56 am)

Bermuda Press (Holdings) Ltd continues to defend press freedom

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