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Is BVI News part of the public relations campaign for the CoI?

Is BVI News part of the public relations campaign for the CoI?

Residents of the Virgin Islands have for the last six months flooded our news centre with telephone calls, texts, WhatsApp messages and letters, claiming they are suspicious of the local online news site BVI News Online.

Besides labelling BVI News Online as one-sided, most often engaging in yellow journalism, bias and anti-Virgin Islands Party Government articles, they are now asking if BVI News Online is part of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) public relations campaign to damage the reputation of the territory.

The online site is owned by a Caucasian female and all the Commission of Inquiry lawyers and the commissioner himself are Caucasian.

BVI News the CoI's PR vehicle?

One caller to Virgin Islands News Online (VINO) last week, who said his name was Adrian’, stated “it seems that everything negative is coming out of the CoI they post”.

Another person in a Whatsapp message with the name ‘French man’ said; “just read their blogs, always hateful things against the people and the government and positive things seem to be never posted… tell me if that is not a plan?”

Many other residents sending messages to VINO on the topic noted that there is a drumbeat of negative headlines and bias stories written in a way to fit the CoI’s narrative that the VI is corrupt, when in fact so far it has found nothing, except some minor gaps in adhering to clear policies.

HoA Members also suspicious

In the House of Assembly (HoA), many Honourable Members on both sides of the aisle, have mentioned a biased online news site taking comments and things out of context, but have not called the news site’s name.

The CoI has been running a political public relations campaign over the past six months, with many residents concluding they have a script already written. It continues to mislead the public and many witnesses and as recently as yesterday September 30, 2021, Attorney General Dawn J. Smith blasted the CoI for lies, misleading the public and its methods of questioning, which bring its own integrity into question.

Lack of respect

The CoI has also been accused of showing a lack of respect for the territory, in continuing the CoI in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic and lack of respect for Elected Members of the HoA, including summoning members on days when there are HoA sittings.

The UK-sponsored CoI is also caught up in a controversy where three of its attorneys working in the VI as part of the Inquiry, Bilal M. Rawat, Andrew King and Rhea Harrikissoon, have still not be called to the BVI Bar, which is a criminal offence under the Legal Professions Act, 2015.

Editor in Chief of VINO Reuben Stoby said he could “not independently verify the claims of a conspiracy between the CoI and BVI News; however, it’s our job as a credible news site to give voice to those with concerns.”

BVI News did not respond to our request for a comment on the allegations.

History of challenges & failure

BVI News has experienced frequent staff turnovers in the past three years, along with legal challenges, and has settled a few cases brought against it.

Over the years many have failed, including BVI News Online, in attempts to link stories on VINO as written by the esteemed Speaker Hon Julian Willock.

It has long been established that Hon Willock does not write for the news site, which he owns with some investors; however, he deals with revenue, including advertisements for VINO’s parent company, Advance Marketing and Professional Services.

Andrew King, left, and Bilal M. Rawat, right, are two of the three lawyers currently assisting the UK-sponsored Virgin Islands (VI) Commission of Inquiry (CoI) and have been accused of practicing law in the territory while not being called to the BVI Bar, a violation of the Legal Professions Act 2015.

Commissioner Gary R. Hickinbottom is leading the Commission of Inquiry in the Virgin Islands.


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