Constitutional amendment, FOIA
OKMULGEE, Okla. — At the beginning of this year, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Administration Department mandated that MCN employees complete an online ethics training video and quiz originally composed by the FBI.
In this video, the agency used examples of fiscal corruption in tribal governments and pointed to a lack of free press as one of the reasons problems like this go unreported and are allowed to continue.
MCN took a big step towards addressing this issue in 2015 with the passing of a free press law.
However, this law has limitations regarding the potential longevity of these protections and how strong it makes Mvskoke Media in the checks and balances system next to the other three branches of tribal government.
Since becoming manager, I have brought these concerns to the attention of several members of the government and now want to include you, the citizens in the conversation as the true bosses of the tribe.
The first concern related to our bill regards how it was passed into law and thus, how it can be undone through the same process.
As we sit now, Mvskoke Media is known as an independent statutory executive agency.
This means we were added to the tribal code of law through majority vote of the National Council with the signature of the principal chief.
Council also had the ability to override an executive branch veto of this bill with a two-thirds majority vote, which also applies to undoing the legislation now that it is passed.
Even though the government could reverse this law, the existence of it is a big step because it could not be done without high profile political fallout that would cause great need to answer for such a decision.
While this is a fairly effective deterrent to making such a decision, the future of an important law like free press should not be questionable or left to chance.
This is why these protections should be added to the foundational law of our Nation, the MCN Constitution.
There are a number of ways to amend the Constitution, all of which involve a direct vote of the citizens and most importantly, this is also the only way to undo it.
Freedom of Information Act
Transparency is the key motivation for having a free press law and the best enhancement to this is a freedom of information act.
FOIAs provide a legal mechanism for news outlets, interest groups and ordinary citizens to compel the government to release documents that show how it is handling the mission of public service.
We as journalists are not here to publish news content based on our assessment and opinions.
Editorial content involving staff opinions like this piece has a place in our mission of being a voice and advocate for the citizens with very specific ethical guidelines in how it is done and separated from news coverage.
However, it is our main job to get all sides of an issue from those involved in it through news coverage that keeps our own assertions out of the picture.
While accounts and opinions are essential to this, it still raises the question, ‘how can a source prove these?’
Relying solely on statements and testimony to prove something can be labeled as hearsay in the legal world to discredit it.
Such a label is intended to raise doubt about the assumed trust that happens when relying exclusively on a human assessment of something without any evidence to prove it.
Getting this kind of solid evidence as a news outlet is difficult with no legal means to compel the government to release documents and information pertinent to an issue.
This often leaves the outlet with only hearsay to try and get the best representation of a situation or to even have enough credible facts to begin pursuing coverage of it.
Again, a FOIA would give us hard evidence to pursue an important issue and get a better picture of it once we do, as well as give citizens direct power of access to matters they consider important.
There are commonly still limitations to what can be disclosed through a FOIA.
Requests for information on personnel issues and proprietary business dealings that could compromise said dealings for the tribe would commonly be denied or redacted.
However, guidelines can be included in a FOIA about these concerns and how they are handled.
Consider this as a call to action. Please educate yourself about tribal free press and lobby your officials to support us in passing further protections for the future of MCN.