Monday, November 19, 2018

Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council repeals freedom of press protections for its tribally-funded media outlet

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation's National Council passed a law on Nov. 7 repealing freedom of the press protections for the tribally-funded media outlet Mvskoke Media, dissolving the agency's editorial board, and putting the staff under the direction of the tribal government, Curtis Killman reports for Tulsa World.

Mvskoke Media comprises a newspaper, the Muscogee Nation News, plus television and radio outlets. Its manager, Sterling Cosper, resigned in protest after the measure passed 7-6. "I don’t want to be complicit in a non-independent press again," Cosper told Killman, referring to his time working for the tribe before 2015, when the National Council granted tribal media editorial independence with the passage of the Independent Media Act. "I saw what the previous model did . . . 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."

The move has been condemned by journalist groups like the Native American Journalists Association and Reporters Without Borders (the U.S. chapter of Reporters Sans Frontieres). In a joint statement, the two organizations and several others noted that, during debate of the measure, the National Council cited a desire to see "more positive stories" in the newspaper. Now, Mvskoke Media staff must receive prior approval from the tribal government on all published material.

NAJA President Tristan Ahtone of the Kiowa Tribe in Oklahoma, said he couldn't prove why the National Council passed the measure, "But I do think that we can probably say that those motivations don’t come from a very different place than other governments around the world that try to restrict press freedom," he told Cecily Hilleary of Voice of America. Ahtone also noted that, because non-Native media outlets rarely report on tribal governments, Native-run outlets are the only way tribe members can get unbiased information.

A group of concerned Muscogee (Creek) Nation tribe members are circulating a petition calling for a referendum on the decision, Hilleary reports.

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