FCC Asked to Block Renewal of TV Licenses for Use of Word “Redskins”

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The broadcast licenses of two Los Angeles TV stations have been challenged for their use of the name “Redskins” on air.

Four Native Americans filed petitions with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking it to deny license renewals for Fox-owned KTTV and NBC-owned KNBC-TV.  Three petitions were filed against KTTV, a station which broadcasts Redskins football games, on October 31.  The KNBC petition was filed on November 3, just in time for the deadline on such petitions.  All four were filed with the assistance of George Washington University Professor John Banzhaf III after he stated he would target stations in areas with large Native American populations.

Both stations’ licenses are up for renewal on December 1.  While the upcoming renewal certainly impacted the decision to single out those stations, petitions point out the Los Angeles area is home to approximately 140,000 Native Americans.

Banzhaf says these petitions can and will apply to radio and television broadcasts across the country which “repetitively and unnecessarily” use the term.  In fact, these petitions came approximately one month after he filed a similar petition against a Washington radio station owned by Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

In a statement, Banzhaf said the term is just as offensive to Native Americans as the N-word is to African Americans.  He said the FCC certainly wouldn’t renew the license of a station freely using the N-word and it shouldn’t renew the license of any station using the R-word.  Because of its derogatory nature, Banzhaf argues the term is not protected by the First Amendment.  The petitions contend it is “hate speech” and a “fighting word” within U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence.

Moreover, the petitions claim the term constitutes “profanity” under the FCC’s indecency rules.  As such, its use is not suitable for child audience members and is contrary to public interest.

The petitions were filed with the hope of changing Snyder’s vow to continue using the team name.  Snyder has repeatedly said he will not change the name, and that its use is meant to honor Native Americans.  Banzhaf says

“The biggest pressure in this debate would be from broadcast stations.  You can’t have an NFL team if nobody can announce your name on air.”

The additional pressure may help, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he personally thinks the name is offensive.  However, he said, his opinion is a different issue than how the Commission will rule.  Whether the name constitutes “profanity” or “fighting words” is a legal matter not to be swayed by personal opinions.  In fact, some experts have said the Commission is unlikely to revoke a license or ban the term.

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