The Federal Communications Commission has dismissed an attempt to block the broadcast license renewal of a radio station that belongs to Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
A George Washington University law professor and three Native Americans had filed the petition against WWXX (94.3 FM), arguing that the station’s frequent use of the term “Redskins” was a racial slur that qualifies as hate speech.
The commission rejected all of their arguments, leaving little room for interpretation and perhaps offering a forecast of how it will rule on similar cases in California.
“Licensees have broad discretion — based on their right to free speech — to choose, in good faith, the programming they believe serves the needs and interests of their communities,” the decision read. “This holds true even if the material broadcast is insulting to a particular minority or ethnic group in a station’s community.”
An attorney for the station, Andrew G. McBride, said in a statement that the ruling should end the petitioners’ “attempt to use the license renewal process to coerce broadcasters into not using the team’s official name.”
“The FCC’s written opinion makes crystal clear that use of the word Redskins on the airwaves does not violate any FCC rules, is not obscenity, profanity, or hate speech and is fully protected by the First Amendment,” he wrote. “The FCC has made clear that the complainant’s threat is now an empty one.”
Still, GW Professor John Banzhaf III said he will continue to support the efforts in Los Angeles, where activists have filed petitions seeking to block license renewals for a pair of TV stations that frequently use the Redskins name.
“Obviously I’m not happy, but we kind of expected this. This is only round one of one battle,” Banzhaf said. “It often takes some time for new legal theories to develop.”
In signed affidavits for the Washington petition, Jay Nightwolf, Louis Grimaldi and Verona Iriarte argued they had “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.”
Attorneys for the station filed a response in October, calling the petitioners’ arguments “meritless.”
“In fact, the Objections amount to nothing more than a frivolous attempt to goad the Commission into banning the team name of Washington, D.C.’s NFL franchise from the nation’s airwaves,” the filing stated. “While there is, in fact, a public debate over the use of the name ‘Redskins’ in association with the team, the Commission cannot appropriately serve as the arbiter of that dispute. No government agency could ban the use of the word ‘Redskins’ any more than it could ban the objectors’ viewpoint that the word is offensive and should not be used.”