The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering whether to punish broadcasters for using the moniker of Washington’s NFL team, the Redskins, a word many consider a slur to Native Americans.
Chairman Tom Wheeler said Tuesday that the commission "will be dealing with that issue on the merits, and we'll be responding accordingly."
The FCC, which enforces broadcast indecency violations, has received a petition from legal activist John Banzhaf III, asking that regulators strip local radio station WWXX-FM of its broadcast license when it comes up for renewal for using the name "Redskins."
Banzhaf says the word is racist, derogatory, profane and hateful, making its use "akin to broadcasting obscenity."
Native American and other groups have demanded the name be changed. One of the most prominent efforts, a national campaign called Change the Mascot, argues that the term is a dictionary-defined racial slur.
“If this was any other group, the name would have been banned already,” said Joel Barkin, a representative of the campaign and Oneida Nation spokesman, calling the petition a “test to the agency.”
Barkin said campaigners have found it effective contacting broadcasters directly, asking them to not use the slur.
The issue “shouldn’t have come down to the FCC weighing it,” he added. “But the FCC has its obligation to regulate.”
The FCC could formally deem use of the team name to be indecent, and thus impose a de facto ban on it on over-the-air television and radio.
Wheeler did not offer a timetable for a ruling on the matter. He has previously said he finds the name "offensive and derogatory," but that he hoped Redskins owner Dan Snyder would change it without any formal action.
In a separate email, an FCC spokesman added that the Commission will review the petition on its merits, “as it does with all petitions filed with the FCC.”
Representatives of the NFL team could not be reached for comment in time for publish.
In June, a panel of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team's trademark registration because it considers its name and logo disparaging. The team has appealed the decision in federal court.
Despite protests, vigorous lobbying and even intervention from President Barack Obama, team owner Daniel Snyder has vowed not to change the name.
Wire services and Al Jazeera