Government

Chief Gray declares Osage News independent from Executive influence

Under the executive order, Executive Branch officials and employees must “refrain from interfering with the critical reporting of all issues of relevance to the Osage people,” according to Chief Gray

Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray has issued an executive order establishing a “free” press and granting the Osage News independence from tribal government.

Gray signed Executive Order No. 09-03 on May 6 in which he declares the Osage News’ duty is “to report without bias the activities of the government and the news of interest to foster a more informed Osage citizenry and protect individual Osage citizens’ right to freedom of speech or the press” in accordance with the Nation’s constitution.

“I think it’s a historical step in the right direction,” Gray said shortly after signing the document. “It ensures the paper can do its job.”

Under the executive order, Executive Branch officials and employees must “refrain from interfering with the critical reporting of all issues of relevance to the Osage people,” Gray said. He added that the monthly publication “shall be independent from any undue influence of the Osage Nation Executive Branch and free of any particular political interest.”

Gray’s order comes just over a month after a committee of the Osage Nation Congress declined to act on a 2009 free press bill and delayed further action, pending a ruling by the Osage Nation Supreme Court on a 2008 free press bill.

On April 2, six Congressional members sitting on the Government Operations Committee voted 3-2 – with Congress Speaker Archie Mason abstaining – to table the 2009 bill.

Gray vetoed the 2008 bill citing constitutional violations and objected to its funding provisions. Congress appropriates the newspaper’s funds, and in his veto message, Gray said the press cannot be free or independent “if the funding to support it is subject to legislative appropriations.”

Congress overrode Gray’s veto on the 2008 bill and Gray asked the tribal court to intervene. The court ruled in favor of Gray, but Mason, acting on behalf of Congress, appealed the case to the Supreme Court. If the justices decide to hear the matter, it will be the first case before the high court since it was formed in 2006.

The 2009 free press bill calls for establishing the Osage News as a tribally-incorporated nonprofit supported by grant funding and an Editorial Board to run the operations.

Gray’s Executive Order calls for an Editorial Council to oversee and advise the newspaper’s staff, but further action such as the passing of 2009 free press bill needs Congressional approval.

“Ultimately I’m going to need help from Congress,” Gray said.

Mason, who describes himself as a free press supporter, said he is hopeful that “we will have an operational news format,” adding “I believe the power of the written word is important to our Osage people.”

Mason said that he does not know when the high court will begin hearing the case on the 2008 free press bill. The court could also decline to hear the case if it chooses, he said.

Gray’s Executive Order covers the Osage News’ editorial operations, which calls for an Editorial Council to oversee and advise the newspaper’s staff. Editorial Council member requirements include being at least 25 years old and having no felony convictions. Council members also must have at least five years of professional journalism experience and must not be an employee or elected official of the Nation.

The order requires the Editorial Council members to practice accepted journalism ethics defined by the Society of Professional Journalists and endorsed by the Native American Journalists Association.

NAJA Executive Director Jeff Harjo praised Gray’s Executive Order.

“It’s a great step forward,” Harjo said. “I think (Gray) values the freedom of the press” so journalists can do their job without harassment.