Making the case for a free, independent press in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Sterling Cosper


Mvskoke Media is like National Public Radio or Public Broadcasting Service working for the best representation of truth

Sterling Cosper

Muscogee (Creek) journalist

On the evening of Nov. 8, 2018, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation government repealed a 2015 law that established its news outlet Mvskoke Media as independent, and moved it back under an official of the tribal administration. 

The department had been overseen by an editorial board that adhered to Native American Journalists Association and Society of Professional Journalists ethics. Two of the members had to be journalists and one had to be an attorney. 

When the free press law first passed, the legislative body of the tribe was also asserting its power in the checks and balances of the government in other ways such as starting a forensic audit on the administration and a campaign finance bill, which was also recently overhauled. 

At that time, Principal Chief James Floyd was a candidate for his current position and also showed support for the bill, which included a posted comment on coverage of the committee meeting where the free press bill was introduced and approved for a full vote.

Six of the seven National Council representatives that voted to repeal the bill also were in favor of putting in it place in 2015. 

One of them, Rep. Rufus Scott was not seated at the time. 

The main sponsor of the repeal, Rep. Adam Jones was not there to vote on it. He also originally voted in favor of free press, and was and is on the committee where this was introduced.

One of the repeal cosponsors Rep. Pete Beaver, also originally voted in favor of free press and was and is also part of the committee where free press was introduced.

Speaker Lucian Tiger, who was the final tie breaking vote on the repeal, originally sponsored one of the members of our editorial board, which was not consulted on what led to the repeal. 

The reason for the repeal cited by the last cosponsor, Rep. James Jennings, who originally voted in favor of free press, is that Mvskoke Media did too much negative coverage. 

While some stories may paint individual subjects in an unflattering manner, it is my opinion that no coverage that is done according to professional journalistic standards is negative in the interest of accountability to the public. 

In fact it shows to the rest of the world that MCN, which is currently in a historical battle to recapture a broad part of its jurisdiction in the Carpenter v. Murphy U.S. Supreme Court case, that it is a government of benevolence and accountability. 

I believe this effort to recapture sovereignty would be well-served by an exercise of it, through a tribal media outlet the government supports to maintain its responsibility to the citizens. 

While is it hard to quantify our light and flattering stories next to hard-hitting, breaking coverage and investigative pieces, to my knowledge, no specific story has been named as a point of concern let alone any particular details about certain coverage. 

In pursuing leads at the independent Mvskoke Media, we always relied on our academic training to guide us about what needed to be pursued, including how and in what order it was done and to what extent. 

Priorities were set on what impacted the tribe most and from there, the resources and time needed to do so dictated how much of what particular kind of coverage came out and when. 

To me, that is how a journalist goes about presenting their work to the public. It is important that they take the proper time and adhere to set standards that will get the best representation of the truth. 

Finally, this should result in the scope of all pieces simply demonstrating a stark mirroring of reality, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Logically, no individual who has been reported on is unbiased about how they were covered and that is the point of an independent outlet, which is held to the standards of being fair to these individuals. 

However, they are entitled to an opinion about how they're covered and a platform to share it. 

For me, that would have included on our outlet as well. Coverage on or an editorial ran by Mvskoke Media that criticizes it was always an option, and the editorial board and myself were there as well to answer for any decisions.

These were not utilized and the repeal was introduced and passed in the same day. 

The public, and for me specifically, Muscogee (Creek) citizens deserve a well-resourced news entity that is dedicated full-time to keeping them expediently and thoroughly informed.

Citizens still have the right to speak out and start their own news outlets.

However, it has been my experience that without an official tribal body for independent reporting, the tribe has been left with social media punditry, less coverage by non-citizen outlets and anonymous websites where authors usually don't put their name behind their information, or provide credible attribution to back it up. 

I respect the right of our elected officials to explore what is best for the people but see this as a clear deviation from that, and also wonder what level or type of consultation was made with the citizens. 

Mvskoke Media is primarily funded by the tribal government and is a legal entity of it, therefore the government has the authority address bills that relate to the department. 

Much like the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, our department receives government funds and in return attempts to seek its own funding sources in an assertive but ethical manner. 

It is my opinion that this model has resulted in a strong body of work in the three years the free press ordinance was in place. 

The editorial board and management were structured to protect the department and this resulted in a trustworthy and quality product, while it received adequate support through the citizens' money in order to serve them with no undue influence from the government that administered the funds. 

The free press ordinance may have been undone but what we accomplished through it can never be. 

I firmly believe an irreversible precedent has been set by our work the last three years and encourage my fellow citizens to assert their absolute authority to call for the return of independent Mvskoke Media, this time with their direct vote on the matter through an amendment to the MCN Constitution. 

In a show protest and to not appear complicit in this new structure as the manager, which under the previous law was a symbol of it, I resigned after the repeal was passed.

Sterling Cosper, Muscogee (Creek) journalist, resigned as the manager of the tribal media department of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation after the council's action.