Three Native Americans have joined a petition asking the Federal Communications Commission not to renew the broadcast license of a radio station belonging to Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
The petitioners — who work together on a radio show in the District — want the FCC to deny the license renewal for WWXX (94.3 FM), a Snyder-owned radio station in Prince William County, because they consider the term “Redskins” a racial slur.
In signed affidavits, Jay Nightwolf, Louis Grimaldi and Verona Iriarte said they have “experienced and/or witnessed harm to myself and/or to other Native Americans which I believe was caused by the frequent repetitive use of the word ‘R*dskins’ on the air.”
Rick Carmean, chief executive of Red Zebra Broadcasting, which operates WWXX, dismissed the petition.
“As we have previously stated and numerous media outlets have agreed, this is a First Amendment issue plain and simple,” he said. “The FCC has consistently recognized that licensees like Red Zebra have a First Amendment right to report the news, including sports news, using the words of their choice. We will file our full response to the original petition with the FCC in short order.”
The original petitioner, George Washington University Professor John Banzhaf III, used similar legal tactics to help push cigarette advertising off television and radio in 1970. Nightwolf hosts a one-hour show on WPFW (89.3 FM), based in the District and aimed at providing programming for minorities. Grimaldi and Iriarte are producers.
Banzhaf argues that their allegation of harm — if disputed by Snyder — would require a formal FCC hearing. He also said it supports the legal assertions that “Redskin,” repeated over and over on air, constitutes “hate speech” and is also a “fighting word,” and therefore not protected as part of free speech.
Banzhaf said by the end of the month he expects similar challenges to license renewals of at least one station in Los Angeles.
“The commission is reviewing the petition on its merits as it does with all petitions filed with the FCC. No determination has been made,” an agency spokesman said Tuesday.
Last month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has previously called the name “offensive and derogatory,” said his agency would consider the professor’s petition, but legal experts have said the commission is highly unlikely to ban the word or revoke any licenses over its use.
“But whether or not ‘Redskins’ is ‘inappropriate,’ racist, or insulting, I think the FCC is barred by the First Amendment from forbidding it, or from considering its use as a factor in deciding whether to cancel a broadcast license,” UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh recently wrote in the Volokh Conspiracy blog, hosted on The Washington Post.
Steve Lovelady, who according to his biography practices federal communications law and represents “clients in a broad range of regulatory and administrative law issues before the Federal Communications Commission,” recently addressed the issue in a post on commlawblog.com.
“Is there any reason for broadcasters to be concerned about losing their licenses?” he wrote. “As far as we can tell, the answer is clearly: No.”
Lovelady cited a 2006 decision in which the FCC narrowly defined the profane language it would regulate: “It imposed on ‘profanity’ a presumption that ‘regulation of profane language will be limited to the universe of words that are sexual or excretory in nature or are derived from such terms.’ Again, ‘Redskins’ does not fit into that universe.”