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Sunday, July 21, 2024


At every turn, the government of the Virgin Islands — or at least its elected and appointed officials — seeks to interrupt the free flow of information to the people it serves though confusion and obscurity.
During this great week of festivities celebrating the end of slavery for the people of the Virgin Islands and the beginning of independence for the American people, it is important to recognize how that freedom and independence is maintained.
It is maintained through the vigilance of the watchdogs of the people — the Fourth Estate — the news media.
Without the news media, the people would once again become subject to the whims and desires of politicians, kings, despots and tyrants. This is not dramatic; this is a tragic fact that still exists in much of the world today.
Where the media are controlled, so are the citizens..
As Americans we are guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, petition and the press.
In the 213 years since the Bill of Rights was ratified, there have been other guarantees extended both federally and territorially to assure that the press can do its job of maintaining freedom — the Freedom of Information Act, the Public Records Act and the Sunshine Law.
These laws are routinely ignored by the leaders of this territory.
We could offer a list of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests that the Source and other media have made in the last four years. In the case of the Source, although many have promised we would soon be given the information we requested, none of it has been provided, beginning with a request for the budget of the 23rd Legislature and ending with a request for the names and recent salary increases extended to the governments' unclassified, non-union employees.
And let us not forget a recent "closed-door meeting" held by eight members of the Legislature. This is against the Sunshine Law, but it happened, anyway.
We hear officials, including the governor, speaking of "transparency" in government, but we don't see it. What we see is obfuscation.
One media outlet was told the documents requested had been prepared, but when a representative went to retrieve them, he was told the head of the agency would not release them.
In another case, the documents were prepared and the representative was told he would have to pay $110 for them.
In case the reading public isn't aware of it, few journalists or media outlets — at least locally — are rolling in the dough. There is not a reporter we know that makes $85,000 a year. Resources are slim, and the slick politicians are truly aware of that.
So, the politicians continue to try and wear us out with one roadblock or another. But we will never go away, and we will not be daunted by those who seek to obscure information and confuse issues. It is our job to demand information on behalf of the people and in so doing assure their ongoing freedom. That is what our ancestors fought and died for.
In 2001, 51 journalists were killed while on assignment, the most in one year since 1995, when the toll was 69. In Virginia, there is a place called Freedom Park where tribute is paid to 1,446 reporters, editors, photographers and broadcasters killed while on assignment.
What's a little obfuscation in pursuit of truth, compared with the threat of murder or assassination?
"The Truth shall make you free." — from the Holy Bible, the Gospel of St. John
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must … undergo the fatigue of supporting it." — Thomas Paine
"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good." — passage from The Declaration of Independence that refers to the King of England

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