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Indian nation bans reporters from territory, declines interviews

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Newsgathering         Jul 3, 2002    

Indian nation bans reporters from territory, declines interviews

  • The Oneida Nation of New York prohibited reporters from The Post-Standard of Syracuse from entering its territory or interviewing nation members in its effort to prevent publication of negative stories.

The Oneida Nation of New York completely cut off communications with a Syracuse newspaper last week after becoming upset about several news stories that leaders say “manufactured a negative angle.”

Oneida spokesman Jerry Reed said reporters from The Post-Standard are indefinitely barred from entering Oneida Nation territory or speaking to officials. The stories prompting the restrictions were reported by Glenn Coin and included quotes from sources critical of the nation’s casino resort, bingo hall and new golf course.

“There was a series of articles that could have been positive, that always have a negative slant to them, and the nation just decided to end communications with that newspaper,” Reed said today about the June 24 decision.

Editors at The Post-Standard stand by Coin’s work, describing them as “always balanced.” Coin is still on the beat, assigned to cover the Oneida and occasionally other Iroquois tribes.

Reed said that contrary to earlier reports, the nation has not ended communications with any other media. The Oneidas have what Reed sees as a “great relationship” with other surrounding newspapers.

Michael Connor, executive editor of The Post-Standard, said the Oneidas are unfairly limiting the paper’s ability to give fair and thorough coverage by not talking.

“It doesn’t hurt us,” Connor said. “It hurts the story and the coverage because secrecy breeds suspicion. And ultimately, it hurts the institution that is denying access, because their story is not getting out as completely or not accurately.”

In a release, Oneida communications director David Hollis responded by saying none of the stories that prompted them to cut off relations “has anything to do with secrets being kept.” But he said the nation is exempt from the federal Freedom of Information Act and does not permit journalists who are not members to cover its government’s decisions or review its financial statements. The nation has no formal internal open records law.

An Oneida spokesman said not all of the newspaper’s employees are prohibited from entering the territory; only the act of newsgathering is prohibited.

“I wouldn’t see a problem with a paper’s staff member coming onto the territory,” Reed said. “But if they are a reporter doing a story, no way.”

Tribal Judge Stewart Hancock said the ban does not apply to his courtroom, according to an account in The Post-Standard.

The Oneidas have banned reporters from the same newspaper at least once before. In the mid-1990s, a similar situation arose in which the nation responded to a few critical stories by trying to silence the paper’s coverage altogether by not speaking to reporters from The Post-Standard. The nation has never denied territory access to another publication, a spokesman said.

Connor said The Post-Standard pledges to continue attempts to contact the nation for every story that has to do with them, in hopes that “they will realize quickly that it is better for them to get their story out than to try to silence the coverage.”

“We don’t want to be in a public battle with the Oneidas, we want to be in a positive newsgathering relationship with them,” he said. “It’s almost inherent in a society with public rights to information that there are always times an institution is not happy with an aspect of coverage.”

CL

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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