POLITICS and MEDIA CENSORSHIP
BY: NATALIE HAND
As an investigate journalist, I follow controversial stories and often write about them, under the freedom of the press. I also follow a code of ethics in my reporting.
Investigative journalism requires me to intensely probe for the facts and ask pointed questions. Often, my stories expose political corruption so factual accuracy is paramount.
In August 2017, the Lakota Country Times newspaper published a story I reported of a woman being arrested in July, after a routine traffic stop revealed she was in possession of prescription narcotics not prescribed to her, multiple syringes and alcohol in an Oglala Sioux Tribal vehicle assigned to OST Treasurer Mason Big Crow.
The woman, identified as Big Crow's companion, was taken into custody on three outstanding warrants and issued a traffic citation. She was released on a $5,000 cash bond the following day.
What made the story newsworthy, in my opinion, was that a tribal vehicle was involved in the arrest.
The story went untouched for weeks, as people worked to conceal the arrest or to dismiss the fact that a tribal vehicle was involved. But I received a copy of the official police report from an anonymous source and reported the story based on that information.
To be unbiased in my report, I contacted Big Crow for a comment on the case, which was featured in my story. The prosecutor in the case was terminated and the case against the woman was eventually dismissed. Big Crow received no reprimand for violating the Tribe's code on misuse of tribal property, according to a tribal government source.
Fast forward to the evening of February 15, 2018. I received a message from Connie Smith, the publisher of Lakota Country Times, informing me that she will no longer publish my stories. This message came the same day she had met with Big Crow over the newspaper's sharp drop in ad revenues. Additionally, LCT Editor Brandon Ecoffey is no longer with the publication as of last week.
The Lakota Country Times has held the title as the Tribe's "official legal newspaper" and a tribal resolution states that all advertising must go through that news outlet.
Smith informed me that the Tribe had stopped purchasing ad space and was no longer submitting meeting minutes in her publication. I attributed this to the Tribe's launch of its own news publication last December, funded by General Fund monies under the Office of the Treasurer and managed by former LCT editor Karin Eagle, who is employed as the Treasurer's public relations person. But Smith insisted it was also due to my article on Big Crow.
Abuse of power in any situation is intolerable and can take many forms. Controlling the proverbial purse strings to suppress the truth is one example. Stripping a small, native-owned business of its ability to succeed is the punishment.
Suppressing information because it may be inconvenient or politically incorrect by government figure heads is media censorship.
The people's right to know what their government is doing is their undeniable right. Historically, native peoples worked collectively and selflessly. Today, greed and power have consumed some.
My belief is that an in-depth investigation of an issue will expose facts to spur change. You cannot change what you refuse to confront.
Natalie Hand, of Shawnee/Creek heritage, is an activist and journalist that has resided on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for 23 years. She believes that there are many frontlines in the battle for justice.
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