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FCC Chairman Asks Council to Target Broadcasters Over "REDSKINS" - Stop Using "Unequivocal Racial Slur" on Air

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2013-05-20 14:58:01 - WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 20, 2013): The former Chairman of the FCC, other former commissioners, and many broadcasting law experts, having already warned that TV and radio stations probably are violating federal broadcast law by using the "unequivocal racial slur" "REDSKINS" on the air – likening it to "obscene pornographic language on live television" or calling a football team the "Mandigoes" – have now formally called upon the D.C. City Council to follow up on their legal warning by strengthen its planned anti-redskins resolution to specifically request area TV and radio stations to cease using the word on the air.

Such a resolution by the Council could be crucial, since federal law requires a broadcast licensee to both ascertain and then respond to community needs and problems in its programming in order to have its license renewed. Who better represents the public and its needs than the D.C. City Council, especially since the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which represents 17 local governments, has already adopted its own anti-redskins resolution calling the team name "demeaning and dehumanizing," and asking Snyder to change it, suggests public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

The strategy of using broadcasting law as a weapon against “REDSKINS” is based upon an FCC proceeding Banzhaf brought in the late 1960s which forced TV stations to begin featuring African

Americans as reporters and in other significant on-air roles, another in which a TV station lost its license over allegations of racist programming, recent FCC crackdowns on indecent and profane programming, and the recent firing of broadcast commentators who used racist terms such as "nappy" or "chink in the armor," even fleetingly.

Last Thursday, apparently seeking to head off the proposed anti-Redskin resolution already backed by nine D.C. City Council members, Snyder declared: "We will NEVER change the name of the team," despite any such requests. He said that the word “never” should be capitalized.

Since Snyder has now drawn a clear line in the sand with his “NEVER” statement, simply dropping the resolution could appear to be caving in to racism. Alternatively, passing the resolution in its original form, which simply asks the owner to voluntarily change the team name, could make the Council seem weak, ineffective, and perhaps even foolish when Snyder ignores it as he said he would.

To avoid these two unsatisfactory alternatives, and to put teeth into the resolution so it can be effective despite Snyder's obstinance, FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and the other broadcasting law experts have called upon the Council to request area broadcasters not to use the R-word on the air. They said in part:

"We are writing as longtime participants in the FCC regulatory process to offer support for and respectfully recommend an addition to the Council’s proposed XXXskins resolution. As recommended by George Washington University Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf, we, too, urge you to include in your resolution an appeal to broadcasters of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.”

If such a resolution is adopted, broadcasters who continue to use the racist term would open themselves up for challenges to their broadcast licenses at renewal time, and no station wants that hanging over its head, damaging its credit rating, preventing any transfer of its license, hindering its ability to enter into long term contracts, etc., says Banzhaf.

Some opponents of the name change argue that the word “Redskins” may legally be used on the air by broadcasters because it is allegedly not used in a derogatory sense, and because it is the proper name of an entity, the NFL football team.

But Banzhaf points out that the complete name of the former musical group "Niggaz Wit Attitudes" was never said on the air, even though the N-word is not used here in any derogatory sense, and the group is made up of African Americans who freely chose the word "Niggaz" to describe themselves. In contrast, Indians are not on the football team, and did not choose the name “Redskins” for themselves.

He also challenges those who deny that the term is racist and derogatory to walk into a bar frequented by Indians and loudly ask: "How are all you redskins doing tonight."

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

Contact Information:
George Washington University Law School,

2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA

Contact Person:
John Banzhaf
Professor of Public Interest Law
Phone: (202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
email: email




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