Two commissioners of the FCC have now publicly expressed their concern over the use of the word “Redskins” on the public’s airwaves.

FCC "Concerned" About "Redskins" - May Rule Soon

Indeed, the current Chairman went further, saying that the word is “offensive and derogatory” and “should go,” although he would prefer that it occur without action by his agency.

License challenge for another station for using “Redskins” repeatedly

However, the FCC is probably going to have to take action on this issue one way or another, since the license of one station has already been challenged for repeatedly and unnecessarily broadcasting that “racial slur,” and at least one more license challenge is now being prepared for a major station on the West Coast, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who filed the first license challenge petition
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Either the FCC is going to have to hold hearings on these issues, or it will be ruling, in effect, that the use of a word repeatedly held to be a “racial slur” is not only clearly consistent with the public interest, but is a less serious problem that a 1-second glimpse of a woman’s nipple from a “wardrobe malfunction,” or one or two “fleeting expletives” such as a single unexpected use of the s-word or the f-word during an music awards ceremony, or lyrics which might possibly suggest drug use  – all instances where the FCC has taken action to regulate broadcasters.

FCC to face question regarding other racial slurs

The FCC will also have to face the question of whether broadcasters are free to repeatedly use racial slurs such as “N*gger” on the air, even though federal broadcast law permits profanity to be used on the air only very late at night, and dictionaries define “profanity” to include racial and ethnic slurs.

In addition, the FCC has been presented with dozens of compelling scientific studies showing that the use of the word “Redskins” causes not just serious psychological harm, but even physical violence.

“It would be very hard to dismiss this evidence, without at least a hearing, since to do so would open the door to broadcasters repeatedly using the N-word and other racist slurs on the air, even if  – as many black, Hispanic, and other groups have contented – such use promotes violence against minorities.

To affect the conduct of its broadcast licensees, the FCC often does not have to take any official action.  Because licenses are so very valuable, and even a brief delay in renewing them can adversely affect a station in so many ways, it has been said that the FCC often regulates by “a raised eyebrow” – a mere hint that a practice or policy may raise license renewal concerns.

Jessica Rosenworcel knows “Redskins” is offensive to many

Here, says Banzhaf, the agency has raised several big eyebrows since FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has told Broadcasting & Cable that he finds the word “Redskins” “offensive and derogatory” and “should go,” while FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has said she knows the racist word is offensive to many people, and she herself has concerns.

In addition, former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, joined by two former FCC commissioners and many leading FCC experts, have reported that the repeated and unnecessary use of the “racial slur” violates federal broadcasting law, and is indecent if not outright obscene.  More recently, he said that team owner Dan Snyder’s continued use of the word made him unfit to hold a broadcast license.

By law, the FCC must hold a hearing on any license challenge unless it can assure itself that the challenge raises no material and substantial issues, says Banzhaf.  However, he notes that the petition he already filed, and one which is likely to be filed shortly, raises many issues – including whether the on-air use of hate speech like “Redskins” or “N*gger” causes not just psychological harm but also actual violence.

John Banzhaf’s legal challenge for WWXX-FM license renewal

After Professor Banzhaf filed his formal legal challenge to the license renewal of Snyder-owned WWXX-FM, Radio Ink Magazine asked a leading broadcast attorney, and one who opposes what Banzhaf is doing, to comment on his chances of having an impact.  Here’s what John F. Garziglia, Esq., concluded:

“An adverse filing against a license renewal application containing such allegations does have the potential to further delay FCC action on the application.  It is worth observing that delay occurs almost anytime an adverse filing occurs against a broadcast station’s license renewal application.  The FCC often gets objections against license renewal applications regarding a station’s programming or other content — objections that, under FCC precedent, should have no bearing upon a station’s license renewal application.  Yet, the FCC will often take years to grant a license renewal application that has objections filed against it.  . .   Because radio stations are subject to the heavy regulatory hand of the FCC, there are many ways for disgruntled individuals and groups to use the FCC’s regulatory processes as pressure.  This potential for regulatory distress is something every radio station licensee lives with every day.  Mr. Banzhaf is reportedly fairly adroit at manipulating the FCC’s processes.”

Banzhaf also notes that virtually all license challenges hang over a station like a Sword of Damocles, adversely impacting the station’s credit rating, its ability to be sold, to be transferred or to merge, its ability to attract talent, and even to enter into contracts.  “Who wants to take even a 5% chance that its FCC license – the most valuable asset any station possesses – will not be renewed, or even will be held up for years,” he argues.

This may be even more true of stations on the West Coast, he suggests.  Because their viewers aren’t clamoring for information about DC’s NFL team, agreeing as a condition of license renewal to simply avoid using the name on the air – as in “Washington Beat Dallas 10-7” – would create no major problems, and it would avoid the expense and probable delay of a major FCC broadcast license challenge.

“Redskins” should not be used on air

Other recent developments further strengthen the argument that the word “Redskins” is derogatory and offensive and should not be used on the air.  Etsy, the popular online store for handmade and classic products, announced that it was banning the sale of all products bearing the “Redskins” logo.

Also, the New York Daily News, hardly a liberal publication, has announced that it would no longer use the racist name anywhere in its publication.

The News, under a headline entitled “Sack the Name,” said that it will no longer use the name or logo anywhere in its pages, calling it “a throwback to a vanished era of perniciously casual racial attitudes.

No new franchise would consider adopting a name based on pigmentation – Whiteskins, Blackskins, Yellowskins or Redskins – today. The time has come to leave the word behind.”

JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
http://banzhaf.net/ @profbanzhaf