Battle for press freedom: “Bad Press” reveals censorship struggles in Muscogee Nation

Photo courtesy of Bad Press/Oklafilm

By Hongyi Ji

Emerson Bright Light Family Screening Room featured “Bad Press” on Thursday night, a film that is more of a revelation than a documentary. In 2018, a 7-6 vote by the Muscogee (Creek) nation down in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, repealed the Free Press Act.

Photo courtesy of Bad Press/Oklafilm

According to the documentary by Joe Peeler and Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, which features the tenacious hero Angel Ellis, the fight to regain it is thrilling but nail-biting.

When the repeal happened, it put Mvskoke Media, a tribal media company that Angel Ellis worked for, in shambles. Ellis’s employer is under the censorship of the local government; 10 out of 16 employees quit the job, and the radio show is closed. Facing enormous adversity in a politically charged environment, Ellis chooses to stay and fight for amendments to restore the freedom of the press.
One of the directors, Joe Peeler, who participated in the discussion after the screening, spoke about what prompted him to document this story.

“I thought I was a guy who was plucked into politics,” said Peeler. “And then I heard that our freedoms were being challenged in this way; I had no clues what was going on, and I thought I was Mr. News.”

Angel Ellis, who was also attending the discussion via Zoom, shared her insights as an insider.

“It is so common (censorship), actually, that it is just like standard operating practice,” said Ellis. “Every journalist I ever looked up to who is Native has dealt with this to some degree.”