Leaders of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) say that an off-the-record meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder is not worth the sacrifice to their belief in a free and open press—ideals they have fought for since the founding of the organization in 1984.
Holder invited the Indian journalists group, along with several other minority and mainstream journalists to meet with him on June 3 in wake of the U.S. Department of Justice scandal that involves its subpoenaing and monitoring of phone lines and e-mails of journalists with the Associated Press and Fox News. His condition was that the meeting be off the record, meaning that it could not be reported on.
The Department has reportedly been trying to uncover the sources of government leaks involving terrorism, which many journalists fear will create a chilling effect and is bad for democracy.
News reported first by The Guardian and The Washington Post on June 6 also indicates that the federal government has collected phone and Internet records for many years post-9/11 of all American citizens in an attempt to monitor terrorist activities.
“NAJA is an organization that has advocated for a free press and open government on the tribal, local and national levels,” the association said in a press release explaining its decision. “We believe the meeting…should be on the record as the public has a right to be informed of and understand the Justice Department's policy discussions with journalists and others on government investigations involving the news media."
Rhonda LeValdo, president of NAJA, thanked Holder for the invitation, but said that press ideals should not be compromised.
Holder told the minority journalists groups that he welcomes more informed input from them, LeValdo tells Indian Country Today Media Network.
Some Native journalists have privately said the invitation should have been accepted to foster a more open relationship with the agency.
But many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, the AP, and CNN rejected the invitation with similar rationale to that of NAJA.
Ronnie Washines, past NAJA president, says that Holder and other government officials need to have trust in a free press.
“The public and their government need to believe in journalistic integrity to do the right thing,” Washines says. “Speaking from a Native journalist perspective, I feel that our people deserve to know they can rely on an open dialogue with U.S. entities.”
Washines adds that Native journalists must not be afraid to report the truth, nor fear the wrath of government—tribal, local, state, or federal: “What is accomplished by holding our tongues?”