Officials Propose FCC Ban Use of "Redskins" Name in Broadcasts

Twelve experts in broadcast regulation, including several former FCC commissioners and counsel, have written that using the word "Redskin" on the air is likely to be contrary to federal law because it constitutes an "indecency" if not an "obscenity"
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WASHINGTON - April 6, 2013 - PRLog -- Twelve experts in broadcast regulation, including several former FCC commissioners and FCC counsel, have written that using the word "Redskin" on the air is likely to be contrary to federal law because it constitutes an "indecency" if not an "obscenity," and that the FCC should take appropriate steps to stop its continued use if the owner does not promptly change the team's name.

Their carefully considered legal opinion provides further support for a legal project begun several years ago by public interest law professor John Banzhaf to formally challenge the license renewal of broadcasters which unnecessary use the "R-word" [equivalent to the "N-word"]; one which has been found in several legal proceedings to be indecent, derogatory, and racist.  As one news report of this new development reminded readers, Banzhaf has already put several leading Washington DC area TV stations on notice of the potential legal challenge.

Banzhaf, whom Reader's Digest called "The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials," also was the attorney behind a challenge to the renewal of the broadcast license of another major TV station in 1969 because, like virtually all other stations at the time, it refused to use African Americans in meaningful on-the-air roles.  Shortly after the license challenge was filed, and long before it was decided, that station as well as others in the DC area made a dramatic change in policy and began employing blacks as on-air reporters, as principles in locally-originated programming, and in executive positions.

He predicts that the same thing would happen if the FCC issued a policy statement that the on-air use of the word "redskins" was contrary to the public interest, and could be grounds for a fine or provide the basis to refuse to renew a broadcast license when it next came up for renewal.  Formally challenging the renewal of a specific FCC broadcast license on this ground would also have a major and immediate effect, because no station would want such a legal proceeding hanging over its head, damaging its credit, and required to be disclosed in numerous official reports and filings.

The letter from former FCC chairman Reed Hundt and 11 other broadcast experts say the R-word is the most derogatory name a Native American can be called, and is an "unequivocal racial slur" akin to the N-word. They liken the use of Redskin to to an "obscenity," which is illegal on the airwaves in any form, rather than simply an "indecency" which is restricted to certain times of the day.

The letter also likens the use of the term to "obscene pornographic language on live television," noting that “As The Washington Post’s Mike Wise pointed out, ‘America wouldn’t stand for a team called the Blackskins — or the Mandingos, the Brothers, the Yellowskins, insert your ethnic minority here.’”  Hundt also wrote in a related editorial that: "As chairman of the FCC, I prosecuted a case against Howard Stern for violating indecency rules."

A parallel ongoing legal proceeding aimed at the R-word is a challenge to the validity of various "Redskins" trademarks.  However, as Banzhaf recently noted in the Washington Post, it has been going on for more than 20 years, shows no signs of a resolution for many more years, and faces almost insurmountable legal problems.

Hundt's letter points out that broadcasters are so concerned about using inappropriate racial language that CBC fired long-time commentator Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder over racially stereotyped remarks about black athletes.  Banzhaf notes that Don Imus was suspended for using the racially-charged term “nappy” regarding the hair of some black female athletes, and MSNBC long-time contributor Pat Bechanan was fired permanently for allegedly derogatory remarks about Jews, Blacks, and other minorities.

Banzhaf also notes that more recently one ESPN anchor was suspended, and another employee of the same network fired, for using the phrase "Chink in the Armor" in relation to the New York Knicks Asian-American player Jeremy Lin.   Interestingly, news anchor Jim Vance, a long-time friend of the Redskin's owner, publicly joined Banzhaf in making the comparison.

Banzhaf maintains that there is overwhelming evidence and ample legal precedent that the use of the word "redskins" is racially offensive and derogatory to many American Indians. This includes decisions by three different jurisdictions to ban the use of the word "redskins" on license plates, a unanimous finding by three judges that the word "redskin" is "a derogatory term of reference for Native Americans and tends to bring them "into contempt or disrepute" when used by a professional football team, a decision by the D.C. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that the Redskins name is "demeaning and dehumanizing," etc.

"No station would ever have its broadcast license renewed if it regularly used the N-word on the air, even if that was the name of a well known team or musical group. That's why, for example, the musical group 'N*gg*rs With Attitude' is never referred to by its correct name, even though it is made up of African Americans who freely chose the name. The Redskins team is not made up of American Indians, and the R-word – as offensive to them as the N-word – was not chosen by them, and is being used over their strongest possible objection" Banzhaf notes.

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
Source:Professor John Banzhaf, GWU Law School
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