By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A media ban, imposed by Tribal Council last month, was the topic of discussion on North Carolina Public Radio on the afternoon of Friday, April 27. Frank Stasio, host of “The State of Things”, had three guests on his program to discuss the issue including Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed; Robert Jumper, One Feather editor; and Holly Kays, a with the Smoky Mountain News who was directed to leave the Tribal Council Chambers on the morning of Thursday, April 5 during a regular session of Council following an 11-1 vote by Council representatives to ban all media, with the exception of the Cherokee One Feather, from the Chambers during meetings.
When asked about the reason for the ban, Kays noted during the program, “It likely stems from a comment that Rep. (Tommye) Saunooke made during Budget Council, two days before that Tribal Council meeting when the ban took place. At that time, she said, ‘I know there is freedom of the press and freedom of speech and all that, but Tribal Council, I am going to ask you to ask Holly not to enter these chambers, because she called me the other day and said can I quote you and I said ‘no, don’t make me look ignorant’, because she had a different quote from what I had said, but she did anyway…The Smoky Mountain News is not quoting us right, so I am going to ask Tribal Council to ask her to step out’.”
Stasio asked Kays what affect this has had on her to which she replied, “You don’t get that fuller sense of interaction between the audience and Council. Sometimes, people will not speak directly into their mics so it’s a little harder to hear online. You can’t get photos of stuff going on in the Council House. A lot of it for me is about respect for my sources.”
She added, “For me, it’s about being present in the community, trying to really understand the people and the issues that we’re reporting on and having that face-to-face accountability too between myself and the people that I report on. I want them to help me better understand the issues going on and let me know if they’re not happy with something I did. I welcome that conversation.”
Stasio said the show did attempt to contact Rep. Saunooke as well as other Tribal Council representatives to appear on the show. “We didn’t receive a response from any of them.”
Chief Sneed started his comments on Friday’s show by stating, “First and foremost, people have to understand that it’s Tribal Council’s prerogative who they allow in the Chambers…it’s probably more difficult for non-tribal members, who don’t reside on tribal trust land, to understand the dynamic of tribal government and tribal sovereignty.”
He addressed the issue of access to meetings. “Tribal Council sessions are live-streamed. They also go out live on Channel 28…it’s out there for everyone to see.”
Chief Sneed said he’s been asked repeatedly why Tribal Council took this action. “I am not on Tribal Council and I don’t suppose to speak for Tribal Council. They’re the legislative branch. I am part of the Executive Branch.”
Stasio asked, “What affect does it have to ask those not from the area to stay out? Isn’t it precisely that effort of becoming more intimate, staying more involved, that allows for better media coverage? What’s the impact of saying we don’t want you here?”
Chief Sneed reiterated again that he does not speak for Tribal Council and said, “Let me preface my comment by saying I am Libertarian in my political views. So, certainly I am not in favor of anything to suppress free speech or the press or anything like that. But, again, it’s not as if the information is not out there.”
He added, “It’s turned into this is a freedom of the press issue when, in reality, I don’t really see much difference in it and a court not allowing photography or live video in a court hearing. It is Tribal Council’s Chamber. It is their prerogative as to what they want to allow or disallow.”
Jumper went last on the program and commented, “Anytime that there’s any kind of restriction to the press, whether it’s outside press or tribal press, there has to be at least a raised eyebrow of concern about why and how far that might go. We are very concerned that we have an open and free interaction and transparency, not only for our community, but for our government.”
As to access, he said, “It is very true, and the Chief is accurate, the Smoky Mountain News or any outside press organization can get the same information, the same video stream, but there are often things that go on inside the Council Chambers, questions asked that are not on mic or on camera, that nobody would be privy to unless they were inside the Chambers. That doesn’t necessarily affect voting outcomes, but it certainly affects possibly the emotion and the community response to a particular issue.”
Jumper went on to say, “Personally, I think it can be very potentially chilling for media of any type, whether it was the One Feather or any other organization, to be told ‘no, you can’t be here’ while we’re making those decisions. It certainly has a chilling effect on a journalist.”
The issue will come up in the Tribal Council regular session scheduled for Thursday, May 5. The Cherokee One Feather Editorial Board has submitted a resolution asking Tribal Council to overturn the ban. “…the Editorial Board feels that many ethical, hard-working journalists are being adversely affected by this motion with no due cause,” the legislation states.