The Native American Journalists Association honors Mvskoke Media with second Elias Boudinot Award for Free Press in 2020
The Native American Journalists Association commends the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for enactment of the “Independent Muscogee (Creek) Press Act,” for Mvskoke Media, the tribe’s news and information outlet. The bill ensures free press protections at the legislative level, keeping Mvskoke Media coverage free from influence by the tribal government.
The MCN National Council passed NCA 20-037, sponsored by Rep. Mark Randolph, with a vote of 15-0 on July 23, 2020 during the virtual quarterly session. The new bill addresses concerns with former laws NCA 19-031 and NCA 15-218, which was repealed in November 2018. Principal Chief David Hill immediately signed the bill into law.
A motion on the floor amended NCA 20-037, removing Mvskoke Media representation on the editorial board. The MCN executive and legislative branches will each nominate a board member and the two representatives will then select a third member amongst themselves.
The bill mandates the independent agency’s funding, which will support staff salaries and news production. It also re-establishes the requirements for the Mvskoke Media director and defines their accountability and relationship to the Mvskoke Media Editorial Board. It clarifies duties of the managing editor in relation to the director and how they operate together as top leadership within the agency.
Finally, the new bill eliminates oversight by the MCN Secretary of the Nation and Commerce, an executive branch employee, in the agency’s business operations. NAJA and the SPJ Oklahoma Chapter previously warned that an executive branch employee directly influencing the outlet could compromise independence.
The addition of a NAJA ethical requirement will ensure fair coverage that also conforms with tribal culture.
While this bill is a historic step toward independent tribal media for the MCN, NAJA reiterates its call to establish free press protections through a constitutional amendment ratified by Muscogee (Creek) citizens. The recent McGirt v. Oklahoma decision by the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the tribe’s reservation and underscores the importance of solidifying an enduring free press framework. As constitutional reforms, the fiscal structure and ethics requirements for agency leadership would provide a foundation of true independence, and strengthen tribal sovereignty.
NCA 20-037 includes a provision that allows meeting access and reporting in accordance with legislative and executive branch policies. NAJA has requested clarification from the legislative branch and MCN attorney general on how these policies may affect coverage of public meetings.
In recognition of Mvskoke Media’s efforts to restore an independent press, NAJA will honor the staff with a second Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2020. NAJA previously gave the 2016 award to Mvskoke Media for passage of the original free press bill in 2015. Named for the first editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, the award recognizes a publication or media outlet that has shown dedication and commitment to upholding freedom of the press, information and transparency in Indian Country. NAJA will present the award to Mvskoke Media during the virtual 2020 National Native Media Awards presentation in September.