Ms. Mills—-First, let me say that it's heartening to see young people taking a stand when it comes to free expression. We need many more persons who will be our future taking part in the process. You article in the Source was both refreshing and questioning but it lacked information as you wanted some very important questions answered. I would like to give my humble response to your questions.
1. Communication to the masses will always be somewhat faulty when a lack of true information never comes forth. It may appear incomplete and possibly misleading because the people who pass there ideas sometimes do it in frustration of not having information from the powers who could provide it. The Source Open Forum is provided so that people like you can express their ideas and thoughts and very often their anger about what is going on around them. In the instance you refer to, it's the government and in particular, the senate who has borne the brunt of much frustration by the people. The Roger W. Morgan Free Speech radio show is also a forum where people vent frustrations but very often the information passed on that show is from sources that may be quite reliable. Mr. Morgan has provided a forum where people can both vent their frustrations and speak about their hopes for a better Virgin Islands. The government, without doubt, has some very serious issues with the quality of life in the Virgin Islands. For too long, the government has not been unable to fix what the average person sees as fixable, and so they vent their anger.
2. With frustration, comes anger and very often public officials have to hear about it. This is not about hatred of anyone nor is it slanderous. However, it is hatred and slander when senators can speak of hatred and slander on the floor of the senate as did two senators in response to the people who called into Mr. Morgan's show. It wasn't Mr. Morgan who espoused anything, it was the callers. He merely provided the forum. Given another context, if a hate speech was given by a group who was permitted to do so at on government property, would you blame the government for allowing the area to be used for that purpose? If hatred and slander was introduced into any medium, such as a newspaper, do you immediately blame the editor of the paper or the people who provided the story? Mr. Morgan provides a free service to the people of the territory and nothing more. The fact that senators or other elected officials are singled out is because they have the power to make change happen and very often fail the people by not even attempting.
3. The majority of Mr. Morgan's listeners are natives. Yes, many "mainland" whites listen also but they are also Virgin Islanders and they, as with all Virgin Islanders, have a right to affect where they live. The recall effort and the anger and frustration over the pay raises were expressed by a majority of Virgin Islanders, mostly blacks. The issue is not black and white, its fairness. Did all Virgin Islanders get a fair shake when the governor and senators vote to get huge pay and retirement raises? The overwhelming answer was NO. The newspapers, talk shows and on-line services, including just about everyone on the street could not believe what had occurred. Even though public outcries came before the vote, and when people thought the issue was closed, the senators, at the urging of the governor, passed the bill anyway in emergency session. This was not mainly whites; this was nearly everyone who could hear the news! Of course they wanted to speak out and they did-on talk shows and in the media.
4. The raises the senators and governor received were viewed by most Virgin Islanders as being obscene, especially when the average working person would never see that kind of yearly salary in their lifetimes. It was the fact that it was done so underhandedly that raised eyebrows. You have to remember that the response of the people was not to repeal the law; it was to get the culprits who allowed it to happen. It was anger and frustration again. Perhaps in retrospect the best course would have been to attempt repeal. As I recall, Senator Russell, on his radio talk show said he made a mistake by voting for the raises and said that repeal would be the best course to take. He even said that he would help those who wanted to petition to repeal. Of course, no petition would have been necessary if Senator Russell had simply created a bill to repeal Act 6905 WITHOUT the need for a petition. But as we found, another senator (unnamed to this day) did submit a bill to repeal but chose to not bring the bill up for consideration. The rules of the senate disallow another senator from bringing up the same bill and so, as the senators said, there was nothing they could do. This outraged people! The senate used a political maneuver to hold the bill from ever seeing the light of day. Were people angry? You bet they were! Not only did they get a raise, but created a scenario where it could never be taken away. There was an attempt at repeal where a group of Virgin Islanders Mostly natives) petitioned to ask the senators to reconsider the raises. The petition was received by the senators but nothing was ever done. You must see by now, that the ordinary person on the street could do nothing to reverse what clearly everyone wanted.
5. Any media that brings up the facts or even the assumptions about elected officials is a right we all have. It doesn't matter if it's CSTED.COM, The Johnnycake files, Paradise93.5fm, anywhere on the internet or newspapers. The fact that people have a right to speak is a right we should cherish. Heck, I was appalled when I went to the UVI site "It's Our Future.Com" and found ads for porn! But, unless the UVI staff takes measures to stop this, it's a right of free expression. We have a right to say as we please and unless and until the elected officials we are bashing give accurate information, it will continue as it should in a free society.
6. Mr. Morgan hasn't hired anyone. His "consultants" are his listeners. Anyone who has ever listened to his show, or any talk show, will hear disclaimers about ideas that are the opinion of the callers and NOT that of the talk show forum. What information comes from Mr. Morgan's show is ALWAYS the opinion of the people of the Virgin Islands.
7. It is the duty of the media to allow the free expression of free speech as the press regards their ability to print or otherwise disseminate it a sacred right. I would hope that that right would never be taken away. However, it is the duty of the media to correct the wrongful dissemination of false information. On a talk-show. That's difficult because the words are spoken. All a talk show host can do is inform the listeners that it is NOT the opinions of the forum provider but the opinions of the callers.
Thank you Ms. Mills for your article. I hope that you spend a great deal of time on your research in getting to the bottom of this free speech issue. I would be anxious to hear your report on this forum in the near future. As you do so, I hope to attempt to listen to both sides, to find out what the real issues are and who among Virgin Islanders are showing the most concern. I wish you well.
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to email@example.com.