Wheeler Clarifies 'Redskins' Stand

As I suspected, the breathless reports of the FCC considering banning the on-air use of the 'Redskins' name were making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill.

I suppose the FCC could do that, but it is unlikely. 

But regardless, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's remarks that the FCC was considering a petition challenging the radio station license of Redskins owner Dan Snyder were about the only thing he could say. 

Wheeler made that point over the weekend in response to an L.A. Times editorial, "The FCC has no business regulating the name of a football team," which said that Wheeler had put some wind in the complaint's sails. “We will be dealing with that issue on the merits and we'll be responding accordingly," he said. "There are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate today. And I think the name that is attributed to the Washington football club is one of those.”

At a press conference last week, Wheeler said the FCC was considering the petition, which set off some alarm bells in the general press. Those who have been following this and similar content regulation issues know the drill.

The FCC chairman can't possibly say that the FCC is not considering a petition, any petition. If someone thinks the FCC does not have enough purple characters and believes that is not in the public interest, they are free to file a complaint, or a petition to pull the license of the station airing the show. The FCC has to review that petition, too. This used to happen with indecency complaints, where the FCC's confirmation that it is reviewing the petition would draw headlines suggesting that was news.

That said, Wheeler has been using his bully pulpit to get folks to act short of regulation, so it is understandable that some might read more into his statment than he says was there.

Wheeler told us that he thinks the name is offensive and should be changed, which helped prompt all this. But it was clear he was expressing his opinion. 

"Like your editorial board, I find the Washington NFL team name offensive and believe it would be appropriate for the team to adopt a new name," Wheeler told the times in a letter to the editor following its editorial. "But my personal views are just that — personal — and should not be perceived as an indication on how the commission will or won't act."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.