Tribal Council’s Vote Threatens Free Press in Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Guest Commentary

Published November 11, 2018

Editor’s Note: On Thursday evening, the National Council of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation revoked the tribe’s Free Press Act because it felt it was receiving negative press coverage. On Friday afternoon, Chief James Floyd approved the legislation. Muscogee Media Manager Sterling Cosper resigned after the vote. The following is a guest commentary written by Rebecca Landsberry, who serves on the Mvskoke Media Editorial Board:

The Mvskoke Media Editorial Board was established in 2015 with unanimous support from the Muscogee (Creek) National Council for Mvskoke Media’s free press legislation, NCA 15-218.

On Thursday, Nov. 8, the National Council voted 7-6 to repeal the tribe’s Free Press Act through the adoption of NCA18-180 during an emergency session.

The signing of this bill into law by Principal Chief James Floyd dismantles all free press protections in place at Mvskoke Media, including the dissolving of the Mvskoke Media Editorial Board, which has served as a buffer between government influence and independent news coverage of MCN for the last three years.

As members of the editorial board, we take issue with the timeline of these actions. The full version of the bill was released less than 10 hours prior to the emergency session, during which time, members of the National Council also raised the question of what necessitated the inclusion of this bill on the emergency agenda. The editorial board was devastated to learn about the intent of the full bill, which placed the award-winning independent agency, Mvskoke Media, under the executive branch’s Department of Commerce.

The content of the bill was not made available to the public — including the Mvskoke Media staff or editorial board — until the morning of the emergency session and neither was consulted in the drafting process. None of the meeting discussion prior to the vote included any editorial board representatives, even though president Travis Snell (Cherokee) and secretary Daniel Carter (Muscogee Creek) were both in attendance during the meeting.

During the bill’s discussion, several council representatives cited a desire to see Mvskoke Media producing “more positive stories.”

It’s important to remember that ethical journalism serves the best interests of the citizens and not the government. If the news staff loses the ability to report important information, including stories detailing the conduct of elected officials, then citizens lose their power to hold tribal government officials accountable.

More than 250 Indigenous newspapers, radio and television stations compose a rich tribal media landscape, which may often be the only source for accurate information on tribal affairs. Indigenous journalism plays a critically important role in supporting tribal sovereignty and self-determination. From holding those in power accountable to disseminating stories of cultural significance, a free and independent Indigenous press supports the goals of tribal nations by providing a forum for community voices.

Rebecca Landsberry

Outside of the tribe, the Native American Journalists Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, Freedom of Information Oklahoma and the Osage News have offered statements of support for the free press protections at Mvskoke Media.

Indigenous journalists strive to ensure the free exchange of information that is culturally accurate, fair and thorough. But most importantly, Indigenous reporters descend from a tradition in which information is used to enlighten, protect, and serve communities.

Unfortunately, Muscogee citizens will no longer learn about these issues from their own tribal media outlet, but must now rely on mainstream and outside news streams to report on the tribal affairs of their own government.
Now, more than ever, a free press at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is needed, and responsible nations recognize the value, and history, that Indigenous journalists represent.

Council representatives who voted no against repealing the free press protections were:
– Thomasene Yahola-Osborn
– Patrick Freeman Jr.
– Robert Hufft
– David Hill
– Travis Scott
– Del Beaver

Council representatives who voted yes in favor of repealing the free press protections were:
– James Jennings
– Darrell Proctor
– Rufus Scott
– Johnnie L Greene
– Pete Beaver
– Joyce C. Deere
– Speaker Lucian Tiger III cast the final tie-breaking vote.

Muscogee (Creek) citizens may contact their individual National Council representatives or Principal Chief James Floyd at 918-732-7601 or by email at jfloyd@mcn-nsn.gov to voice their support of free press protections for Mvskoke Media.

Rebecca Landsberry (Muscogee Creek) is the executive director of the Native American Jouranalists Association. 

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