Free Speech Victory in 'Redskins' Challenge

Shortly before Christmas, the FCC delivered a victory for free speech by rejecting a challenge to the continuance of a radio station’s license over its use of the team name of the Washington Redskins.  In a point by point rebuttal, Peter Doyle, Chief of the FCC Media Bureau’s Audio Division, explained why the petition to pull the broadcaster off the air did not hold up under scrutiny. 

NRB had taken particular umbrage with the argument of this petitioner, a George Washington University Law School professor, which invoked a claim of “hate speech” and called on the FCC to begin a formal proceeding to consider “to what extent is it appropriate if not necessary for the FCC to consider if not oversee such ‘hate speech.’”

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler urging against such a proceeding, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, stated, “What constitutes true ‘hate speech’ is convoluted, yet the connotations of such an accusation are extremely grave.  Sadly, this term has been used recklessly by some in our nation and other democracies in an attempt to expunge opposing viewpoints from the marketplace of ideas.”  

Notably, even the professor’s own complaint admitted the uncertainty around this serious word by stating, “the general topic of ‘hate speech’ is so broad and complex, potentially covering many different types of words and statements, and many different types of harm as to which the causal connection may be vague if not indeed nonexistent.”

In his dismissal of the petition, Mr. Doyle rejected a claim against the station on “hate speech” grounds, and specifically stated, “There are no provisions in the [Communications Act] or the Commission’s rules banning hate speech.”  Instead, he noted a legal test on speech inciting imminent lawlessness for which the petitioner did not offer any evidence.

“I am grateful that the FCC rejected this dangerous effort to attack a broadcaster license on such a serious, yet vague charge of ‘hate speech,’” commented Dr. Johnson.  “Religious broadcasters are concerned that such spurious charges might be leveled against them when they proclaim truth from Scripture on controversial issues.  Indeed, I have been startled by stories of governments in other free nations sanctioning the censoring and censuring of religious broadcasts in the name of extinguishing such an ambiguous ‘threat.’”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: January 9, 2015

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