Does On-Air Use of “R-Word” Violate Federal Broadcast Law?
WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 10, 2013): A federal agency may soon be asked to weigh in on whether using the word "Redskins" on the air may violate federal broadcast law, thereby putting stations which use it – at least regularly and unnecessarily – at risk of sanctions by the Federal Communications Commission [FCC], including even non-renewal of their broadcasting licenses.
In other words, is the term "Redskins" in the same category as other racially charged words like "Niggaz," "Chink," "Nappy," etc., which even broadcasters themselves have determined should not be used on the air because they may violate the FCC rule against "profanity,"
A former FCC Chairman, several former FCC commissioners and legal counsel, and almost a dozen experts in broadcast law have concluded that what they termed this "unequivocal racial slur" should not be used by broadcasters.
Calling the word “Redskins”
These FCC experts have now also written to members of Congress concerned about the continuing use of the term "Redskins." They ask the Congressmen to request the Congressional Research Service [CRS] to "investigate and report on whether the deliberate, repeated, and unnecessary use of the term “XXXskins”
Although a legally conclusive determination of that issue can be made only by the FCC itself, a carefully reasoned legal opinion by the CRS could help convince stations to reconsider whether, in light of changed circumstances and evolving standards, they should continue to regularly broadcast what some call the "R-word," that, like the "N-word" which is offensive to Blacks, is offensive to American Indians.
The letter seeking a CRS opinion on these legal issues has just been sent to the members of the Congressional Native American Caucus, and is addressed specifically to those members who are sponsors of a bill to revoke the "Redskins" trademarks by congressional action. That movement is headed by Delegates Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, a Native American, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, an African American.
These same congressional sponsors had earlier written a letter to team owner Dan Snyder, asking him to change the team name. Since Snyder reportedly rejected their suggestion, these members are now being asked to do something more effective, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who first suggested using broadcast law as a weapon against the widespread use of the offensive word “Redskins.”
He notes that at least one TV station lost its FCC license because of racially insensitive programming, and another – faced with a license challenges – was forced to begin utilizing Black reporters on the air for the first time. Any such license challenge can have an immediate and serious impact, since it affects the station’s credit rating, its ability to transfer its license, enter into contracts, etc., notes Banzhaf.
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)
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