WWXX Owner Says 'Redskins' License Challenge Is Meritless

Red Zebra Broadcasting, the licensee of Dan Snyder's WWXX-FM sports radio station in Washington has told the FCC that the petitions to deny the license over its use of the name Redskins are meritless and a crass attempt to misuse the system to extort broadcasters into dropping the name. Snyder owns both the station and the team, and has resisted pressure from Native American groups and Washington politicians, primarily Democrats, to change the name.

"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," Red Zebra Broadcasting said in a filing at the FCC.

The company concedes the public debate over the name, but says the FCC is not the appropriate arbiter.

"Any debate about the Washington Redskins' name and its meaning should be had in the free marketplace of ideas, not in the halls of the FCC or any other governmental agency," Red Zebra said of the filing.

The broadcaster also says the petitions are a call for broad censorship. "The objectors propose a limitless expansion of the government's censorial powers," it said. "Such viewpoint-based regulation is subject to strict scrutiny under the First Amendment and is almost universally condemned by the Supreme Court."

"To designate the matter for hearing or strip the Station of its license would be arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with Sections 309(k) and 326 of the Communications Act and long standing Commission precedent, and violative of the First and Fifth Amendments."

Legal activist John Banzhaf and a trio of Native Americans have petitioned the FCC to deny the license, saying the name is offensive, harms Native Americans, is close to obscenity and may be 'hate speech.'

Red Zebra counters that the petitions are "a crass misuse of the license renewal process as part of a broader strategy to extort broadcasters to stop using the term 'Redskins.'"

The petitions are considered a legal long-shot. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he thinks the name is offensive and should change, and at least two other commissioners have said they have problems with it. But there is a difference between their feelings and how the FCC rules on the petitions. Wheeler reiterated Friday that the FCC is treating the petition the same way it does hundreds of similar petitions it gets every year.

But Wheeler is also fond of using the FCC's bully pulpit to effect change, so his opinion, first reported by B&C/Multichannel News in an interview, carries weight.

"There is no hearing to be held, no further pleading that should be considered, and no other reason to delay the grant of the Station's license renewal application," the company argues.

Wheeler said Friday the FCC has not yet decided whether to put the petition out for public comment.

"The Commission should expeditiously grant the Station's renewal application and signal that it will not be a party to Banzhaf's attempt to abuse the licensing process to gain leverage to silence accurate, truthful and fully-protected speech on the airwaves," it said.

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.