Muscogee (Creek) Nation recently repealed a 2015 law guaranteeing freedom of the press. The tribe backtracked just before the new year, but free press proponents suffered another setback late Friday when Principal Chief James Floyd vetoed legislation that would have restored the independence of tribally-funded Mvskoke Media.
According to Freedom of Information Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Muscogee (Creek) was one of just three tribes in Oklahoma with free press protections. But that changed in November when the Muscogee (Creek) National Council voted to dissolve Mvskoke Media’s independent editorial board, bringing it under direct control of the tribe’s executive branch. Under the new set-up, the outlet would essentially function as a public relations tool, rather than a news agency.
“This isn’t personal against the newspaper staff, but there’s just too much negativity in the newspaper,” Muskogee District Rep. Pete Beaver said following the November vote. “There just needs to be more positive coverage.”
The November measure was promptly signed by Principal Chief Floyd, who said it would not affect Mvskoke Media’s independence, even though stories would require approval from the nation’s Department of Commerce and reporters’ digital communications could be monitored under the nation’s employee policies.
Before resigning in protest, Mvskoke Media’s former manager, Sterling Cosper, pushed back against Floyd’s assertion. “In the past, we have gotten word from officials that they would not touch and influence what we do,” Cosper said. “But if the structure and the law does not reflect that, then it’s not going to really inspire confidence.”
The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) also issued sharp criticism. It read in part:
In a survey of NAJA membership earlier this year, two of the biggest threats to tribal media identified were a lack of financial resources and editorial control. Tribal journalists reported that their nation’s economies impacted their tribal media’s ability to be financially independent and that government officials and political interests often determined media content.
Indigenous journalism plays a critical role in supporting tribal sovereignty and self-determination. From holding the powerful accountable to disseminating stories of cultural significance, a free and independent Indigenous press supports the goals of tribal nations by providing an open public forum for community voices.
The legislation vetoed by Principal Chief Floyd was passed on Dec 15 by a 9-6 vote. It would have repealed the November legislation that abolished the tribe’s Independent Media Act and restored Mvskoke Media's independent editorial board. In a press release Floyd said Mvskoke Media has problems that need to be addressed, such as accounting for how it uses tribal funding. His veto could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the Muskogee (Creek) National Council, but it is unclear whether the council will act.
Some Muscogee (Creek) citizens are taking matters into their own hands with an effort to restore press protections through a vote of the people.