On Sunday, a Beaconite got an unexpected tour of some new-to-her places in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda: Eustatia Island, the back of Cooper Island, and a lovely infinity pool at Oil Nut Bay. Perhaps the most interesting part, however, was at the Sir Richard Branson-owned Mosquito Island, where a couple of guests were enjoying what they apparently believed was a private beach. None too pleased to see a boat drop anchor, one leaped off his lounger and whipped out his cell phone in an apparent attempt to lodge a complaint with the “powers that be.” However, since the captain of the boat had been sailing the VI for 40 years, he was aware that the group was well within their legal rights to anchor as long as they pleased and even go ashore up to the high-tide mark. Those who come to the VI with enough money can buy a lot of nice things, but, to everyone else’s benefit, a private beach is still not one of them.
Concerned, but not afraid
Last week, a Beaconite was chatting with a friend over dinner about the recent passage of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime (Amendment) Act 2019, which broadens the ability to prosecute people for communicating online, heightening concern for free press in the Virgin Islands. Her friend argued that if the Beaconite lives into her 70s, a year or two or five in jail is a relatively short amount of time. After being released, she would supposedly have amazing career opportunities waiting at her feet for virtuously being imprisoned while fighting for free speech rights. Firstly, she appreciates his optimistic prediction about her life expectancy. Secondly, she is passionate about journalistic integrity and would genuinely choose to go to jail before disclosing information about a confidential source. But she hopes it doesn’t come to that point. Having dedicated reporters in the field is more important than political grandstanding, if less dramatic. It is a fact that having a strong free press is vital to the health of a democracy, and it is mind boggling that such a fact is even up for debate in this day and age. Bear in mind that journalists don’t work in a bubble, without consequences. The community and the constitution hold them accountable. Members of the media should be allowed to do their jobs, and with that right comes a responsibility to actively, earnestly and honestly do them to the best of their ability. The big question from all of this is: Why? Why is there such a concern for free press? The quandary brings this Beaconite back to the first lecture of her Law of Mass Communication class in university. The class, though challenging, proved to be one of her favourites as it pushed her to thoughtfully consider the role of journalists in society. The professor said laws governing communications intend to balance protecting people from malicious libel and safeguarding the press’s ability to report critically. Then he posed the question, “Why make it extra hard for government officials to win a libel case against the press?” Per the Beaconite’s notes from Sept. 21, 2015, “Abuses will happen, but it is more important that we can govern ourselves; people need breathing space to have political discussions, even if it opens public figures up to tough criticism.” The class was geared toward law in the United States, but the statement bears truth regardless of geography. As of last week, the scales slipped in a certain direction in the Virgin Islands, and that direction isn’t forward. Nevertheless, the Beaconite is committed to looking out for the interests of VI residents and unwaveringly commits to reporting the truth regardless of where it lands her. She is aware of the chilling effect that accompanies laws that limit speech, but she’s not afraid of the cold.
Last week, a Beaconite reported on a court hearing for a man charged with murdering a woman in 2016. The Beaconite’s usual experience with years-old unsolved murder cases is far different: Frequently, the Police Information Office sends over blurbs reminding the public that an investigation into a certain case is ongoing, and urging anyone with information about the matter to contact the police. Often, the police include an emotional statement from the victim’s family members, begging for assistance in bringing justice to their dead loved one. With so many of these old cases sent the Beaconite’s way, it was reassuring to hear the director of public prosecutions lay out some of the findings from the almost four-year-long investigation into the murder of a woman who was only 22 when she died. Of course, the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but the Beaconite hopes to see several of the ongoing murder investigations resolved soon.