Lambasting persons who have been advocating for the boycott of Virgin Islands News Online (VINO) over a cartoon published on Monday, May 15, 2020, ‘Umoja’ radio show host Cromwell Smith aka ‘Edju Enka’ says their action is now putting freedom of speech under threat in the Virgin Islands.
“It is becoming apparent that we want to silence those persons who we don’t agree with. So if you say let's boycott VINO, let take away its business, then if you take away VINO’s business it will be another brother that we putting out of business,” Mr Smith said on the Wednesday, June 17, 2020, edition of his show.
Cartoon 'an accurate illustration' - Cromwell Smith
Sitting alongside guest Claude O. Skelton-Cline, Mr Smith said the cartoon accurately illustrated commentary made by Skelton-Cline about the relationship between the United Kingdom (UK) and the Virgin Islands (VI).
In the Tuesday, June 2020, episode of ‘Honestly Speaking’, Mr Skelton-Cline had told his listening audience, "every time the United Kingdom uses its cohesive powers, that's a knee on our collective neck. Every time the United Kingdom threatens us or gives us an ultimatum, that's a knee on our collective necks."
It was based on commentary by Claude O. Skelton-Cline that VINO made an illustration with both Skelton-Cline and Governor Augustus J.U. Jaspert in its weekly cartoons; however, the visual depiction has since sparked outrage in a small section of the VI community.
Freedom of speech under attack
"By making an illustration, which by all intents and purposes, an accurate illustration based on particularly what you described, how we come to the point where we want to put them out of business?" he questioned.
According to Mr Smith, the fact that people are now calling for the boycott of VINO represents a direct threat to freedom of speech, not just from an independent media perspective, but from his perspective as a talk show host and social commentator.
“Let’s just say for argument sake our livelihood depends on us talking, then we become afraid of what we are going to say that may benefit our people because we afraid, we might starve to death,” he said.
VINO ‘scatter me all over the Nile’ – Smith
“And VINO ain’t no fan of mine because they tear me into little bitty pieces and scatter my body all over the Nile,” Smith said.
Skelton-Cine added there is a significance in defending free speech, even it is perceived to be offensive.
“We must be able to defend, even that which offends us if we intend to live in a healthy democracy where freedom of speech and expression is one of the tenants that must be upheld,” he said.
Amidst the boycott calls, several businesses have so far indicated they will stand in solidarity with VINO and its right to freedom of expression by renewing advertising.
Skelton-Cline reiterated that those outrage by the cartoon should find better use of their time by targeting companies whose businesses are built on institutional racism and systemic racism, including slave labour.