By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal Council passed amendments to the Free Press Act, during its regular session on Thursday, Sept. 6., that granted protections for anonymous sources to the paper. The changes also remove the director of Marketing and Public Relations from the editorial board as the position and division no longer exist.
The timing of hearing the ordinance coincided with the New York Times’ running of an anonymous op-ed from a member of President Donald Trump’s administration. It also coincides with an unflattering book about Trump from Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist of Watergate fame, who used an anonymous source to expose corruption in the Nixon administration. Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke said, “That was in the news all over the place this morning.”
Robert Jumper, One Feather editor, who submitted the proposed changes on behalf of the Editorial Board, was seeking to expand the protections of the Free Press Act and strengthen it. In addition to leaving the use of anonymous sources up to the editorial board, it also struck the requirement of review for approval of controversial material.
“The word controversial is an ambiguous word,” Jumper said. “It is our feeling that the Editorial Board should be a policy maker and that the editor and staff should be following the guidance of those policies.”
Sanctions for violations were also passed. Any incident of pressure or influence that threatens a staff member of the paper is required to be reported to the Tribe’s Office of Internal Audit and Ethics for review, investigation and recommendation.
It also adds appointments to the board for Tribal Council, the executive committee and a staff member of the Attorney General’s office. Some in Council questioned the indefinite appointments.
“We are much more concerned that we pull the politics back out from it,” Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah said. “You’re not ever going to get the politics out of it.” Wahnetah said that term limits could be set or reappointed. Council removed the word “indefinite” from the changes.
Vice Chairman David Wolfe also questioned the One Feather providing recommendations for the Council appointments. “I look at it as Tribal Council’s appointment. We’ll do that appointment on our own.”
Jumper said, “If you needed any assistance from us, we would provide it. If you don’t need it, then we won’t provide it.”
The use of anonymous sources for journalistic purposes is often used as a last resort, when verifying the story can happen no other way, and the story is highly newsworthy. The amended ordinance allows for such to happen on a case-by-case basis.
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, while asking for fairness in reporting, called upon any use of anonymously obtained information to be factually-based. “I think that it’s very important that whatever that anonymous source is, the facts of what they’re saying is reviewed at least three or four times to make sure that what is written is in fact, fact rather than their political view.”
Jumper replied, “We have the same concerns, and we want to make sure we are accurate and fair.”