Bad Press is totally up my alley since I have a soft spot for tales about the triumph of the underdog and tales about the triumph of journalism. The documentary Bad Press was directed by Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler and took place at the Mvskoke Media in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
The film follows the reporters and journalists at the Mvskoke Media, who want to provide the people of the Muscogee/Creek Nation with access to the news about their community. Unfortunately, this was rendered practically impossible when in 2015 the Free Press Act was repealed, and the independent editorial board was dissolved giving the council power over the paper.
The documentary Bad Press sheds light on the fundamental aspects of a free press as well as what transpires when that Press is blocked by politicians and authorities who would rather control the narrative than allow the truth to be exposed to the public. The intention of Bad Press is straightforward: to inform the people of the Muscogee Nation about the reality of the situation. To not just celebrate the community as the council desires, but also to show its troubled underbelly to keep people aware of their nation, the purpose of this project is to not only celebrate the community.
In their investigation, Landsberry-Baker and Peeler go deeply into the group of reporters who are adamant about regaining their freedom of the Press. Among this group of reporters is Angel Ellis, a reporter who is determined to see that the injustice is rectified.
Although some documentaries at Sundance have a larger-than-life feel due to their focus on celebrities or international issues, Bad Press has a purposefully intimate feel while still covering a topic that is extremely important to our society. It is not only a narrative about freedom of the press but also about corruption and the inherent worth and necessity of grassroots journalism.
Bad Press was written when critics of news and journalism preferred to view journalism beneath the cloak of the oh-so-hated “media.” It shows where a community would be without the freedom of the Press. The voice of the people is the only defence that can be taken against abuses of power and unscrupulous officials.
The difficult trip that the reporters go through is chronicled in the film, which spans several years and takes place. At the same time, they are being harassed and intimidated by members of the council who are concerned about re-establishing a free press. So we watch as the community struggles tooth and claw for a right that many of us tend to take for granted, and we see it take two strides forward and then one step back.
Those officials who campaign on their behalf win elections, but once in office, they do very little to assist journalists in regaining their influence. Tribal publications endure censorship from tribal officials, a problem that concerns the Muscogee Nation and Indigenous journalists throughout the country.
As they struggle for one of the most fundamental rights, we follow some of the most courageous reporters and journalists as they confront personal dangers to themselves and risks to their professional careers. This is not just a problem that affects the Muscogee Nation; rather, it is a miniature version of the problems that might arise when there is no freedom of the Press.
It serves as a reminder of how important the news can be and how the reality landscape may change when it is unavailable. We follow Angel and the other journalists she works with as they face each new year’s challenges, celebrating their victories and lamenting their defeats. There is no shiny finish, and there is no dramatic score. Instead, we are thrust into the muck and mire of their tug-of-war with the local political establishment, and the show is all the better for our participation.