By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
Update: Dan Snyder's station, WWXX-FM, has filed a response with the FCC in regard to the petition to deny renewal of the station's licence. In it, the station calls the objections meritless and frivolous, and says the FCC cannot arbitrate the dispute without violating the Communications Act, longstanding precident and the First and Fifth Amendments. You can read the full response here.
The controversy over the use of the name “Redskins” for Washington’s NFL team is loud and growing louder. Whether team owner Dan Snyder bows to the pressure and changes the name is anybody’s guess at the moment. But there’s something going on in the halls of the FCC related to this that’s downright scary. And once again, it involves potential government overreach.
According to trade publication reports, FCC Chair Thomas Wheeler says the Commission will consider a petition filed by a George Washington University law professor, which challenges the broadcast license of Snyder’s WWXX-FM in Washington, in part over the use of the name “Redskins” on the station. John Banzhaf argues using the name on the air could constitute indecency, obscenity or even qualify as hate speech.
While the Commission only has before it this allegation as it relates to a single station, could its decision have more far-reaching implications?
What might the FCC do? It could ban the use of the name from all broadcast airwaves—subjecting any licensee who uses it to fines and sanctions. Is that likely? We don’t know. All Wheeler would say is that the Commission “will be dealing with that issue on its merits and we’ll be responding accordingly.”
Regardless of which side of the controversy you’re on, RTDNA sees this latest issue as a simple matter of free speech—and one in which the government has no role. If the FCC bans this term, what’s next? Will there be other words determined as not fit for current social conventions? And do we want those decisions made by a government bureaucracy? We think not.
Some news organizations have made internal decisions not to use the name of the team in their newspapers and other media. That’s fine and it’s totally acceptable as a business decision made by those who run the organizations. But that’s where these kinds of actions belong. They don’t belong in the hands of Washington regulators.
Change, if it is to come, needs to come through a free and open marketplace of thoughts and ideas. Government mandates are not the way to do it. RTDNA hopes the FCC realizes that as it considers the Banzhaf complaint and the potential repercussions from it.