Snyder’s Broadcast License Challenged Over Redskins

Snyder’s Broadcast License Challenged Over Redskins
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 2, 2014): A formal legal opposition has been filed with the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] opposing the renewal of the broadcast license of station WWXX-FM, serving the greater DC metro area from Buckland, VA, and owned through Red Zebra Broadcasting by Dan Snyder, who is also the owner of D.C.’s NFL football team, the Washington “Redskins.”

Redskins, a derogatory racial slur

The document charges that repeatedly and unnecessarily broadcasting a word which has been held in many proceedings, and by many individuals and organizations, to be a derogatory racial slur is contrary to federal broadcast law which requires stations to be operated in the public interest.

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The opposition is based in part on a document prepared by a former chairman of the FCC, two former FCC commissioners, and almost a dozen other broadcasting law experts who all reported that the word “Redskins” was an “unequivocal racial slur,” and that the unnecessary and repeated on-air use of that derogatory racist word is contrary to current federal law, and akin to broadcasting obscenity.

It also argues that the word constitutes a “profanity” – defined by the FCC to include “language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”

FCC says not to broadcast profanity

The document cites several dictionary definitions which say that “a synonym for ‘profanity’ is ‘swearing,’ and few would hesitate to conclude that using words like ‘N*gg*ers,’ ‘K*kes,’ ‘W*tb*cks,’ ‘C*nts,’ ‘F*gs,’ or ‘R*dskins’ would constitute swearing.”  Profanity cannot be broadcast during most of the day to avoid having an adverse impact on children – in this situation, especially Indian children.

The document cites dozens of studies showing that racially derogatory words, especially those related to Indians, cause real physical harm, including beatings, bullying, ostracism, etc.  It therefore suggests that “Redskins” – the most derogatory word for Indians, and known as the R-word because it represents to Indians what the N-word represents to African Americans – also constitutes “hate speech.”

After an article in Broadcasting & Cable, revealing that public interest law professor John Banzhaf was considering opposing the renewal of a broadcast license over the use of the word “Redskins” went viral, RadioInk chimed in by asked a leading broadcast attorney, one who strongly opposed the idea on principle, to assess the chance of success of such a move.  The expert reported:

Station WWXX-FM’s broadcast license renewal application remains pending

“As long as WWXX license renewal application remains pending, however, it is vulnerable to an objection being filed against it.  Should an objection now be filed against it, the FCC would take up whatever allegations are made in such an objection in its consideration of the still-pending WWXX license renewal application. . . .
    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.

. . . Banzhaf is reportedly fairly adroit at manipulating the FCC’s processes.”

Banzhaf has used FCC filings to get antismoking messages on radio and television, to help ban cigarette commercials, and to force DC-area TV stations to use blacks as on-air reporters for the first time.

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 @profbanzhaf

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