Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd vetoed a bill Friday that would have reinstated the tribe’s free press act and restored the independence of its media.
In rejecting the bill, Floyd returned the measure to the National Council, which had voted three weeks ago 9-6 to restore press protections for the tribe’s media arm.
The legislation would repeal a law passed in November that transferred the previously independent Mvskoke Media to a department in the executive branch and abolished the three-member editorial board overseeing its content.
That law drew ire from tribal citizens and condemnation from the Native American Journalists Association, resulting in the reinstatement bill. Mvskoke Media manager Sterling Cosper had resigned in protest.
Floyd outlined his objections to the vetoed bill in a letter addressed to National Council Speaker Lucian Tiger. His first issue involves several “operational inefficiencies” affecting Mvskoke Media’s daily operations and the best use of tribal funds that have been identified since November.
Floyd also said the bill does not address his belief that Mvskoke Media, which comprises the tribe’s newspaper as well as its television and radio broadcast outlets and graphic design department, should be reconfigured.
Only seven of its 18 positions are dedicated to news reporting, he said, while about half of its budget is allocated for news reporting.
“I believe that Mvskoke Media’s focus should be about covering and reporting the news,” Floyd wrote. “I believe that any legislation going forward should designate Mvskoke Media as solely being a news organization.”
Other objections include failure to address editorial board requirements and proper financial oversight of Mvskoke Media’s $1.57 million budget.
Cosper said he tried to keep communication open between the government and Mvskoke Media, specifically about budget concerns when he became manager, but never felt the government tried to reach out and express these concerns.
The former manager said he specifically suggested moving the tribe’s graphic design and printing to a different department to help with the budget situation. Cosper said it wasn’t an active effort to spin off the department, but he said he wasn’t shocked at how the tribal government has handled the situation.
“Because I’ve been covering the tribe a long time, I’m kind of aware of this tendency for them to take these kind of actions without trying to work with the other side,” Cosper said.
He said he understands Mvskoke Media is like any other form of public media in that it’s not a “free ride,” but that serious questions remain because of the perception of a government-controlled press.
Additionally, the chief said the bill does not require any type of reporting to be provided to his office or the National Council. He believes entities funded by the tribe should be required to send a quarterly report describing their activities and accomplishments.
The council may override the veto with support from at least two-thirds of its members.
Floyd has maintained that Mvskoke Media remains independent despite being in his control. The tribe issued a news release Friday evening stating that while Floyd supports free press rights, he also wants to ensure “departmental accountability and efficiency.”
“I have remained dedicated to upholding the rights of Mvskoke Media’s free press,” Floyd said in the release. “I have not intervened in the daily operations of news reporting or restricted the independence of Mvskoke Media to pursue and report any news story.”
Despite this, Cosper said the situation’s optics undermine the media outlet’s credibility regardless of whether there is actual interference.
“They can insist all they want, but if (Mvskoke Media) is set up under the chief it’s just inherently not true,” Cosper said. “I just can’t believe they continue to push that line. I mean, we wouldn’t accept that as Americans with another media outlet, I wouldn’t think. … They can now fire people. That’s the thing you need to understand. They couldn’t do that when we had the (Free Press Law) and that was a key part of it, government officials firing journalists.”