Press free­dom for tribal me­dia re­pealed

Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion ap­proves the leg­is­la­tion, which is signed into law

Tulsa World - - Metro&region - By Cur­tis Kill­man

A new Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion law re­peal­ing press free­dom pro­tec­tions for the tribe's in-house me­dia has prompted a res­ig­na­tion and drawn fire for its “chill­ing” ef­fect.

The leg­is­la­tion, ap­proved by the Na­tional Coun­cil and signed into law this week, places the Mvskoke Me­dia un­der the con­trol of Prin­ci­pal Chief James Floyd.

“This is a chill­ing at­tack on press free­dom by the Na­tional Coun­cil,” said Tris­tan Ah­tone, pres­i­dent of the Na­tive Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion.

“So what's go­ing on here with Mvskoke Me­dia is it is funded by the Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion and the Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion is es­sen­tially try­ing to


say that that out­let is ac­tu­ally a PR wing of the gov­ern­ment and we will treat it as such so that things have to go through ap­proval,” Ah­tone said.

Floyd, who did not re­spond to an in­ter­view re­quest, told the Na­tional Coun­cil that the tribe's me­dia would con­tinue to be in­de­pen­dent.

“I have not in­ter­fered with any story, tried to stop any story what­so­ever and it (Mvskoke Me­dia) will con­tinue to be the same re­gard­less of where it's at,” Floyd said Thurs­day in a YouTube video posted on Mvskoke Me­dia's Face­book page.

Floyd's sig­na­ture on bill num­ber NCA 18-180 re­peals a 2015 tribal law that pro­po­nents said cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent tribal news me­dia.

Dur­ing an emer­gency meet­ing on Thurs­day, the Na­tional Coun­cil briefly de­bated, then nar­rowly ap­proved a mea­sure to re­peal the tribe's In­de­pen­dent Me­dia Act by a 7-6 vote.

Mvskoke Me­dia com­prises the tribe's news­pa­per, Musco­gee Na­tion News, as well as the tele­vi­sion and ra­dio broad­cast out­lets and graphic de­sign


Mvskoke Me­dia Man­ager Ster­ling Cosper re­signed in protest fol­low­ing the vote.

“I don't want to be com­plicit in a non-in­de­pen­dent press again,” Cosper said Fri­day, re­fer­ring to his time work­ing for the tribe prior to pas­sage of the In­de­pen­dent Me­dia Act.

“I saw what the pre­vi­ous model did,” Cosper said. “If you are go­ing to say that you are go­ing to give cit­i­zens ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, the struc­ture has to re­flect it in some­thing like a bill.”

Cosper said no one ap­proached him about the pro­posed change prior to it com­ing up Thurs­day.

“From my ex­pe­ri­ence in cov­er­ing some more dras­tic ac­tions this is ba­si­cally how they op­er­ate — quickly and qui­etly,” Cosper said.

When the press free­dom bill was signed into law in 2015, the Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion joined two other Ok­la­homa tribes — the Chero­kee and Osage — as hav­ing ap­proved leg­is­la­tion which granted in­de­pen­dent sta­tus to its me­dia.

The Tulsa World at­tempted to reach all 16 mem­bers of the Na­tional Coun­cil for com­ment. Coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tives Joyce Deere and James Jen­nings, who both sup­ported the mea­sure, de­clined to com­ment.

Na­tional Coun­cil mem­ber John­nie Greene, reached by tele­phone, spoke briefly about her sup­port for the mea­sure.

Green said the Na­tional Coun­cil “did the right thing.”

“It was un­der the ex­ec­u­tive branch be­fore and there was no prob­lems so I don't look for any prob­lems be­ing back un­der the ex­ec­u­tive branch,” Greene said. “I don't un­der­stand why they do not want back un­der them.”

In video of the Thurs­day meet­ing, coun­cil mem­ber Travis Scott said the 2015 law cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent press with­out in­flu­ence of any po­lit­i­cal in­ter­est or in­ter­fer­ence.

“And I think, in my opin­ion, if we ap­prove this, this is where we are go­ing with that,” said Scott, who op­posed the bill.

Coun­cil mem­ber James Jen­nings, who sup­ported the bill, ac­knowl­edged that “there is a lot of con­cerns” about the mea­sure, but said he thought the bill was a “good piece of leg­is­la­tion.”

“I feel like the me­dia ... it's not per­sonal against the me­dia, but I feel like the news­pa­per it­self could have more pos­i­tive is­sues on the na­tion and not so much neg­a­tive is­sues,” Jen­nings said.

Bill spon­sor Adam Jones III and cospon­sors Pete Beaver and James Jen­nings could not be reached for com­ment Fri­day.

How­ever, Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion Na­tional Coun­cil Speaker Lu­cian Tiger III is­sued a state­ment Fri­day that read in part:

“NCA 18-180 re­turns Mvskoke Me­dia to the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch and will con­tinue to op­er­ate as it did be­fore. Noth­ing in NCA 18-180 dis­bands or re­stricts Mvskoke Me­dia's abil­ity to act as the Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion's me­dia out­let de­spite at­tempts to brand the leg­is­la­tion as re­stric­tive or sup­pres­sive of free­dom of speech.”

Tribal spokes­woman Neely Tsoo­dle said Floyd was also a cosigner to the state­ment from Tiger.

Pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists, press free­dom or­ga­ni­za­tions and tribal me­dia out­lets, mean­while, con­demned the bill.

“The po­ten­tial adop­tion of NCA 18-180 rep­re­sents not just a step, but a leap back­wards in an era where jour­nal­ists na­tion­wide are al­ready strug­gling with pub­lic mis­con­cep­tions about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween re­porters and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials,” ac­cord­ing to a joint state­ment is­sued by the Ok­la­homa Chap­ter of the So­ci­ety of Pro­fes­sional Jour­nal­ists and FOI Ok­la­homa.

The state­ment noted that the Mvskoke Me­dia ed­i­to­rial board “serves as a cru­cial buf­fer be­tween the news­room and the tribe's gov­ern­ment.”

“The elim­i­na­tion of that safe­guard opens the door for po­ten­tially reck­less in­ter­fer­ence in the pub­lic's right to know,” the state­ment con­tin­ued.

Shan­non Shaw Duty, ed­i­tor of the Osage News, warned the Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion Na­tional Coun­cil against ap­prov­ing the mea­sure.

“You are show­ing your cit­i­zens that you have noth­ing to hide when you sup­port and In­de­pen­dent Press,” Shaw Duty said in a state­ment posted Thurs­day on Face­book.

“As a mem­ber of the Osage Na­tion, when our elected of­fi­cials don't want their busi­ness out in the open, our tribal mem­bers think the worst,” Shaw Duty wrote.

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