By Patrick Goodenough, July 8, 2005.
The British Broadcasting Corporation Thursday dropped its customary stance on
using the words “terrorist” and “terror” in its coverage of the deadly bombings
The words were used – without attribution — throughout the day on the BBC
Online website, with headlines like “London rocked by terror attacks,” “Terror
security is stepped up” and “Rail travel hit by terror blasts.”
News stories included references to “terror attacks on London” and “a
series of terrorist attacks on London’s public transport system.”
Media watchdogs have for years taken issue with the BBC, along with other
news organizations such as Reuters, for a reluctance to call deadly attacks
against civilians terrorism.
In its coverage of Palestinian suicide bombings, for instance, the
broadcaster uses words like “bomber” and “militant” to describe those who
detonate bombs that kill and maim Israeli civilians.
Last year a group called BBCWatch.com criticized the BBC’s reluctance to use
the words “terrorist” in reference to Palestinian suicide bombings.
“We consider that the way in which the BBC refrains from labeling as
’terrorist’ certain groups attacking Israelis is discriminatory, inaccurate and
impartial,” the group said in a report.
Another group, Honest Reporting, noted an instance in late 2001 when the BBC
did not describe suicide bombings which killed 26 civilians in Jerusalem and
Haifa as “terrorism,” but then used the word “terror” in a headline describing
retaliatory Israeli raids in Gaza.
BBC editorial guidelines warn staff against “the careless use of words which
carry emotional or value judgments.”
“The word ’terrorist’ itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to
understanding,” the guidelines say. “We should try to avoid the term, without
attribution. We should let other people characterize while we report the facts as
we know them.”
“We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such
as ‘bomber,’ ‘attacker,’ ‘gunman,’ ‘kidnapper,’ ‘insurgent,’ and ‘militant.’ Our
responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our
audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.”
The Malki Foundation is a charity set up by the family of a 15-year-old girl killed
by Palestinian terrorists in an Aug. 2001 suicide bombing in a Jerusalem pizza
Writing on the group’s website Thursday, Malka Chana Roth’s father
Arnold said “what happened in London today was not the act of ‘militants’ or
of ‘activists’ … Let’s be clear about the fact that this morning’s victims in
London were the direct targets of terrorists.”
Roth said the BBC had for years “performed semantic acrobatics to explain why
the murderers of our children are ‘militant’ ‘activists’ who must be
“Terror, it is clear, is the word your audience expects you to use when
the victims are your colleagues, neighbors and friends,” he said.