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FCC Rejects Petition to Deny License to ‘Redskins’ Station

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The Federal Communication Commission is rejecting a petition to deny the license renewal of radio station WWXX-FM, owned by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, over its broadcast of the term “Redskins.”

John Banzhaf filed the the challenge to the station’s license with the FCC, Broadcasting and Cable reports, and targeted the language issue as constituting “profanity,” which the FCC regulates under its indecency rules. In its opinion, the FCC wrote:

The Commission defined profanity in 2006 as “language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”

Due to “the sensitive First Amendment implications in this area,” the Commission limited its regulation of profane language to “the universe of words that are sexual or excretory in nature or are derived from such terms.”

However, even that limited definition was invalidated by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Banzhaf argues that the word “Redskins” constitutes profanity. He does not allege, however, that the word is sexual or excretory in nature or derived from terms that are. Instead he asserts that the word “Redskins” is racially derogatory.

While the Commission has “recognize[d] that additional words, such as language conveying racial or religious epithets, are considered offensive by most Americans,” it made clear its intent “to avoid extending the bounds of profanity to reach such language given constitutional considerations.

“Accordingly, we reject the argument that the word ‘Redskins’ falls within the Commission’s definition of profanity.”

Broadcasting and Cable points out that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has said he believes the name should be changed, but that the issue is different from whether the football team’s name is actually  “profanity,” “fighting words,” or “hate speech,” as has been suggested in the petitions.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai agreed, saying the license challenges were “meritless.”


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